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Drugs debate: Eradication, Medication and Education - Learning the lessons of time

Ron-Hogg-presenting-to-group

PCC Ron Hogg

Drugs debate: Eradication, Medication and Education - Learning the lessons of time

Press briefing - Decriminalisation of Drug Addicts

I have been extremely lucky to have been a police officer for over 30 years, rising to the rank of Deputy Chief Constable. During that time I was fortunate enough to have served the people of County Durham and Darlington up to and including Assistant Chief Constable, as well as the people of Cleveland as a Deputy Chief Constable, and can speak first hand of what actually happens on the street and the problems that are faced by both police officers and the public.

Since leaving the Police Service and becoming the Police and Crime Commissioner for County Durham and Darlington, I have also been fortunate to work with Chief Constable Michael Barton, who is determined to dismantle organised crime and make the county the safest place to live, work and visit.

There is no place for ‘Organised Crime’ in our society and it is my job as the Police and Crime Commissioner to work with the Chief Constable to enable him to achieve his goal. It is no secret that Organised Crime controls the illicit drug supply market and it would be fair to say that the majority of the monies being made by organised criminals are from drugs. It is with this in mind that we must consider different approaches to stemming the opportunities available to the suppliers and treating the addict as a victim and not a criminal, I know this is a view shared by the Chief Constable as we have debated this much over the last year.

So why are the addicts victims?

Well, most are usually preyed on by bullies when they are reaching adulthood. The typical addict encounters problems at puberty, be it from problems in the home, community or school and they want to escape, or rebel. That is where the supplier comes in, usually someone who is uneducated, lazy, doesn’t work and is used to resolving problems with their fists not through debate.

The addict is now in the grasps of the supplier. They’d go back for more and suddenly become addicted to the drug they saw as an escape from reality, and will start to build up debt with the dealer. Once hooked, they have to feed their habit.

How?

It generally starts with them stealing from their family and loved ones. Some intend to pay this back and don’t see it as theft, but the reality is they never get that opportunity. Of course their families find out eventually and this leads to family fallouts and generally speaking the addict leaving home to live with their other addict friends.

Their habit still exists and they now have a choice - give up or pay for more drugs. The addict will build up more debt, but sooner or later the supplier will recover their money, with the threat of violence if they don’t pay. The addict is left in no position but to steal, be it shoplifting, stealing from cars, burgling from sheds or even houses, but they steal to pay for their drugs. Some even turn to prostitution and sell their bodies to pay for the drugs – that is the power heroin can have over you, and the fear the dealer can bring.

I have learnt that the addict is a victim, with the drug pushers and suppliers being the real offenders.

The cultivation of opium in Afghanistan reached its peak in 1999, and the following year the Taliban banned poppy cultivation, a move which cut production by 94 percent. After American and British troops had removed the Taliban and installed the interim government, the land under cultivation leapt back to near pre-1999 levels. In short, eradication hasn’t worked; heroin is still freely available and cheap.

Heroin is one of the most chaotic drugs out there. Once the user is hooked, they need to feed their habit. Nationally there are just short of 300,000 heroin and crack cocaine users. Of those, 93,400 inject the drugs. In fact in County Durham and Darlington, there are approximately 1700 individuals in drug treatment for opiate addiction.

A high proportion of volume property crime (shoplifting, theft, theft of bikes, theft from vehicles, shed burglaries, house burglaries etc) is caused by offenders who are hooked on drugs. They seize on opportunities and steal in order to earn money by selling the ill-gotten gains for cash to buy drugs or weighing the stolen goods in for drugs.

Over the last three years 40 individuals have died from drugs overdose and nationally we have seen many deaths from contaminated heroin. Anthrax has been found in some cases.

Every now and again the addict enters a drugs programme, but sadly they don’t always succeed in these programmes and go back to buying the drugs from the dealers. The drug treatment workers do a fantastic job, but invariably the addict is put onto a methadone maintenance programme, which isn’t always the most successful treatment available.

In 1994, Switzerland began a trial diamorphine maintenance program for users that had failed multiple withdrawal programs; they would present themselves at a clinic and given injectable heroin 3 times a day.

This program which still exists today, found that heroin addicts were more likely to stay in treatment, there was no evidence of increased tolerance, no overdoses, limited reports of problems in neighbourhoods. Use of non-prescribed heroin fell significantly, users avoided illegal activities and over 60% of addicts are in drugs treatment.

The success of the Swiss trials led to similar programs being established in Germany, The Netherlands,  Canada, Spain, to name but a few. Since 2009, Denmark has prescribed diamorphine to some addicts that have tried other treatments without success.

Between 2006 and 2011 the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust took part in a national research project known as the “Randomised Injecting Opioid Treatment Trial” or RIOTT for short, where a hardcore of heroin users were allowed to inject medical grade heroin under supervised conditions.

These trials took place in Darlington, Brighton and London. Results published in the Lancet showed that prescribing pharmaceutical heroin in this way can reduce the use of street drugs and associated levels of crime. It was also shown to improve the individual’s health and quality of life and gave them the stability they needed to recover from their dependence on heroin. Subsequently a group of national experts said that the results from the three centres offered the Government “robust evidence to support the expansion of this treatment so that more patients can benefit”.

The successes of these trials around the world, and within Darlington have led myself and the Chief Constable to believe that this approach to treating heroin addiction should be explored further, certainly county wide.  

This is what I want to achieve, in simplistic terms it is about:

  • Taking drugs of the streets
  • Removing profits from criminals
  • Reducing volume crime
  • Freeing up the time the police have to deal with the volume crime and drugs possession to target the dealers and crime groups
  • Testing low level criminals, to see if they are using drugs, if so to divert them into treatment, not the criminal justice system
  • To treat addicts as victims, with the health service taking the lead, not the police
  • Giving the treatment services the proper tools to let them succeed
  • Treating the addicts with safe heroin, with consistent purities and safe additives – reducing disease and death

What I am suggesting is nothing new, heroin has been prescribed in the UK since 1926, but not on the scale I am suggesting. Together we can take the demand out of this market, and the opportunities from dealers.

Of course there will be a void caused by this approach, whereby the dealer will have drugs they can’t get rid of and that is where education comes in. Educating those who may be vulnerable to the dealers and in turn ensuring they can’t get rid of their drugs. There will of course be some who will turn to drugs to escape, but the police and drug workers will be there to help them.

Furthermore, I would like to re-assure you that Durham Constabulary has a good track record in tackling organised crime groups and dealing with the illicit drugs trade. A de-regulated drugs trade will not be tolerated and will continue to be at the forefront of tackling criminal groups in enforcing the current legislation.

We are not going soft on drugs; we believe we are going sensible. Durham Constabulary has been recognised as one of the most effective forces to tackle the supply of drugs. What we need is a means of making the market in controlled drugs less lucrative.

Ron Hogg

Durham Police and Crime Commissioner

Posted on Wednesday 30th October 2013
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