High time for a discussion
It’s not often that we see politicians put their heads above the parapet over the drugs debate, so it’s refreshing to see Durham’s police and crime commissioner Ron Hogg taking a relatively courageous stance by putting the UK’s drugs policy in the spotlight. Hogg wants to see the introduction of ‘consumption rooms’, where heroin addicts can inject their prescribed heroin in a safe, supervised environment, away from predatory dealers. Dealers who couldn’t give a shit what is in their shit as long as they are making money. This is one of those ideas where the down-sides are overshadowed by the benefits. Evidence from UK trials and other countries have shown that such initiatives can improve the health of users, reduce drug related crime and reduce addiction.
In places like Denmark, consumption rooms have saved lives, not just by intervening in overdose situations, but by providing clean needles, a hygienic environment, and significantly, exposing users to drug counselling services and health professionals. These are outcomes which every person who wants a better society should like to see. It seems like a no-brainer: reduce the harm of drug addiction to heroin users and the wider community, whilst at the same time reducing addiction. Consumption rooms wouldn’t be a magic bullet though, as wider and significant reforms to drug policy are needed. This might be too bitter pill to swallow for those afflicted with a different addiction: authoritarian self-righteousness.
Usually politicians balk at discussing progressive drug policies, and avoid the appearance of being ‘soft on drugs’ by preferring a punitive approach to addicts, and wagging a moralistic finger at anyone who disagrees. So kudos to Ron Hogg for trying to make lives better for the Durham’s addicts, their families and communities. He’s put his political career in genuine harm’s way to make a point worth hearing. It’s a pity that Northumbria wasn’t also on Ron Hogg’s beat.
Unfortunately Northumbria’s Labour PCC Vera Baird doesn’t see drug addiction in the same way. Rather than take action, or even add her voice to the call to explore such initiatives further, it appears that she doesn’t see the need, and that a recent drop in recorded heroin use means that the current approach is adequate. For a PCC who has campaigned so hard against domestic abuse, it seems her approach to heroin addiction is comparatively apathetic. If reported incidents of spousal abuse dropped, would she dismiss new policies that may help reduce it further?
If nobody talks about drugs and drug addiction, then nothing will be done to make it better. Drug addicts will remain the victims of addiction, criminals and an overly punitive legal infrastructure.
The ‘war against drugs’ has failed (if there was ever really one) and a new approach is needed. At least in the North East, Durham seems to be taking the lead.