New approach needed on drugs
THE gap between the political rhetoric on fighting drug abuse and cold reality grows wider by the day.
The predictable response will be to call for stricter enforcement policies. But decades of prioritising enforcement have produced limited results. The latest survey from the Executive on the use of illegal drugs reports that users find little difficulty in acquiring such drugs: 68 per cent said it was "very easy" and 28 per cent "fairly easy". As for campaigns to persuade young people to abstain, the report found that those aged 16-24 are the most likely to have taken drugs in the past year (one in five), while the most common age to have first tried drugs is 16.
Tom Wood is right to argue that if enforcement and exhortation are not working, then we should be brave enough to consider alternative strategies. Such alternatives do not mean that we legalise dangerous drugs or discontinue enforcement policies. However, we need to shift the emphasis towards rehabilitation and deterrence.
For instance, recreational drug users need to be confronted with the cost of their habit - we need to impose stiff penalties on driving under the influence of drugs. There may be an argument for decriminalising some recreational drugs, such as cannabis, but only if the commercial product is very heavily taxed in the same manner as cigarettes to act as a disincentive.
The primary focus has to be on rehabilitation of heroin users. That means ending endemic drug use in Scotland's prisons. It means replacing the tacit policy of keeping addicts quiet on methadone with the more expensive one of personal rehabilitation programmes.
There are no magic solutions to the drug problem. Society is unlikely to give up its use of recreational drugs any more than it will give up alcohol. That means we need to manage and disincentivise excessive recreational drug use - something that is low on the radar at the moment. In addition, we must try to rehabilitate the hard-core 50,000 opiate users. We may not succeed - but then again, neither has enforcement.
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