Drug use in the UK is a crime, just like many other countries.
Prison sentences can range from one year to seven years depending on the drug.
This deterrent measure is not effective in the war against drugs. The re-offending rate shows that it does little. The highest crime category, more than a third (33%) of primary drug offenders reoffend within one year.
This shouldn’t be surprising. This is not surprising, as the initial experience with drugs may have been triggered by curiosity or trauma, but it can easily lead to addiction.
Individuals are not able to control their drug addiction. The substance is not under our control. Nobody chooses to become a drug addict.
Why can’t we treat addiction as a mental illness?
It is important to see drug addiction as a disease and not as a crime. Addicts are people who require our support and help. They will feel more isolated and ashamed if they are locked up.
Inability to implement a criminal justice approach
Drug abuse and mental illness often go hand-in-hand and can co-exist. A staggering 63% percent of those seeking treatment for substance abuse have a co-occurring mental disorder.
We often see people who have a long list of problems, such as a difficult childhood, financial habits, or difficult families.
Punitive drug policies do not solve the underlying problems or the addiction. People are only made more ashamed by being put on trial and shamed when they do this. They retreat into their shells, where drugs are the most comforting.
Fear of punishment can lead to increased drug use and secretive behavior. It can also make it more difficult to seek treatment and harm reduction services.
Our criminal justice system for drug abuse is clearly ineffective, regardless of whether it’s intended to deter drug users or make them feel bad.
It is time to make changes in how we treat those suffering from addiction in the UK. It would be a huge step forward to see them as patients, not criminals.
It’s also a more affordable option. In the UK, an average cost to keep someone in prison per year is around PS43,000 This is 6 times more than the average cost of treatment for rehabilitation and health screening tests.
This is all before we even get to the cost of police, lost productivity, and other areas.
Learning from Other Countries
It does not mean that we should change our attitude towards drug users. It is quite the contrary. It has been proven that changing from criminalizing drug use to a more safety- and health-centric model can achieve the same results we have been trying unsuccessfully for many years.
Portugal is an example of a country that has decriminalized drug use over 20 years. They chose to educate, counsel, and provide treatment for drug users, instead of cracking down on them. Individuals are not referred to law enforcement officers, but to social workers, psychologists, and doctors.
Although many people doubted that this radical approach would work, the results have been impressive. Since then, Portugal’s drug use and deaths rates have been consistently lower than the EU average. It has one of Europe’s lowest rates for drug use among young adults.
Portugal’s example of treating drug users with dignity and not stigma is something we can all learn from. They can be called “junkies”, or simply people who use drugs.
The Family Drug and Alcohol Courts in the UK have been successful in reintegrating drug addict families, but with a greater focus on the welfare and care of children.
We need to look at other mechanisms, such as drug courts, which can be used for a wider range of drug users. They are sent to treatment and care services by frontline institutions.
It is essential to have a tailored rehabilitation program that supports a multidisciplinary model that bridges social, welfare, and health services.
Although the government may have increased funding for drug treatment in the last year, we can increase the benefits by combining more coordinated thinking with a support network.
Drug intake rooms
We need to be flexible and open to other options for treatment.
One example of this is the overdose prevention centers or drug consumption rooms.
Despite promising results elsewhere in the world, there has been no indication that such sites could be established in the UK.
Not all people are open to receiving treatment immediately. Sometimes, addiction, just like mental illness requires a gradual, subtler approach.
We cannot ignore drug consumption rooms if we want to decriminalize and destigmatize addiction. They replace dark alleyways with a safe, compassionate place. Access to clean injections supplies would make individuals feel less afraid and ashamed.
The results from other studies showed that the honeypot effect is not a concern. The results showed that drug use was less common, there was less chance of overdose and people were more open to counselling and treatment.
We have known for years that drug abuse and addiction are influenced by more than just legislation and enforcement. We have not taken sufficient action. The addiction crisis has evolved and progressed over the last decade, but we have failed to act sufficiently.
It is not working to intimidate and deterrence. The way forward is a non-judgemental, atment-based system and attitude.