30/07/2008

Drugs' Seizures May Have 'Negative' Impact

The UK's illegal drugs market is proving to be "extremely resilient" in the face of continuing, targeted police action.

According to a new report, police crackdowns could actually have a negative effect on the problem.

The report, 'Tackling Drug Markets and Distribution Networks in the UK' said that "a key policy issue is to recognise and minimise the unintended consequences of drug law enforcement efforts.

"These activities can have a significant negative impact on the nature and extent of harms associated with drugs by increasing threats to public health and community safety.

"There needs to be a much greater emphasis on establishing measurable outcomes which focus on harm reduction," it said.

The findings - authored by the UK Drug Policy Commission - said that drug markets are "highly fluid and adapt to law enforcement interventions".

These latest figures (for 2003/04), estimate the size of the illicit drug market to be £5.3 billion, considered to pose "the single greatest organised crime threat to the UK".

The report noted that a quarter of the total cost of delivering the drug strategy has been dedicated to reducing supply, but, despite the large sums of money being spent tackling the problem insisted that, "traditional police tactics were not working".

In spite of recording that the number of Class A drug seizures in England and Wales "more than doubled" between 1996 and 2005, most seizures of heroin (74%), crack (70%) and cocaine (61%) in 2005 were in fact less than one gram in weight.

The report also referred to findings that since 2000, average street prices in the UK have actually fallen consistently for heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis.

David Blakey, of the UK Drug Policy Commission said that enforcement agencies "tended to be judged by the amount they had managed to capture".

However, a Home Office spokesperson said "the Government agrees that enforcement in isolation is not effective".

Seizures were only part of the Government's approach to tackling drugs and that many of the report's recommendations "are already being implemented".

"Our drugs strategy encompasses enforcement, prevention, education and treatment," a spokesperson said.

In conclusion, the report said that the proportion of adults in England and Wales reporting any drug use during the previous year has fallen since 1995 (by 1.8%) and the use of Class A drugs has remained stable (increasing by 0.3%) and the use of powder cocaine has increased during this period (by 1.7%).

(DS)(BMcC)

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