A number of police forces in the UK are now choosing to educate and treat drugs users, rather than caution or charge them. At a time when UK drug deaths are the highest in Europe, some police chiefs are pioneering ‘diversion schemes’ for people who are caught with personal amounts of controlled drugs.
In this blog, we’ll look at the reasons why police are spearheading these new drug education and treatment initiatives. Why is it important to educate and treat drug users, including young, vulnerable or first time offenders?
The 2017-18 Crime Survey for England and Wales found that one in eleven 16-59-year-olds used a controlled drug last year – approximately 3 million people.
Of these drug users, 1.2 million young adults took illegal drugs last year (19.8% of 16-24-year-olds).
In the 16-24 year age group, 8.4% had used Class A drugs. This figure has been rising since 2011-12, mainly due to increasing cocaine and ecstasy use.
After cannabis, cocaine is now the second most commonly used drug in England and Wales. We have the highest levels of cocaine use in Europe.
With millions of people using controlled substances every year, police need effective alternatives to prosecution.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2017 there were 3756 drug poisoning deaths in England and Wales. Of these deaths, 432 were related to cocaine – up from 371 cocaine deaths in 2016. These are the highest figures ever recorded.
Chief Inspector Jason Kew of Thames Valley Police says, “You can’t arrest your way out of record drug-related deaths.” Drug treatment is needed to tackle the illness of addiction.
At best, arresting drug users may stop their drug use. When people are addicted, however, most will need addiction treatment to recover fully.
Drug treatment allows people to explore all the underlying causes of their addiction, develop healthy coping strategies and learn about relapse prevention.
If a teenage drug user is arrested, charged or even imprisoned for drug possession, what are the impacts on their life chances?
Does judicial punishment set them straight and prevent reoffending? Does having a criminal record negatively affect their employment opportunities? Is it harder to find stable housing? How much do their friends and family connections change, for the better or worse?
Some police diversion schemes are showing reduced rates of reoffending. It’s also vital to identify all drug users who need immediate drug detox and rehab, to give them the best chance of lasting change.
Similar to public funding for addiction treatment, police budgets have also been significantly cut in recent years. By offering drug education and treatment programmes for drug users, police forces can save time and money.
These resources can be used to target more serious and organised criminals instead – including drug traffickers, drug dealers and drug-related violent offenders.
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