Perhaps one of the most devastating social ills that exist within our society is that of the consumption of drugs. The precise extent to which this problem exists is unknown but what we do know is that it is vast and multi lateral, pulling in many other interrelated issues along with it. Other aspects that can coincide with the problem of drugs are those of crime and control. These are long running controversial issues that have still yet to be tackled successfully. We know that it is a difficult and delicate subject to discuss but contemporary society provides us with clues about how we may go about handling it. What we have to realise is that old characteristics and stereotypes of drug users that may have informed us in the past have changed and the use of drugs is more widespread and recreational and somewhat fashionable than in times gone past. The problem that faces us, if being realistic probably can’t be solved in one simple solution if at all. This makes it all the more important to concentrate on particular areas in order for the most damaging aspects of drug use to become less prevalent. For this to happen the context of drug use and their users have to be understood in certain terms. This being the definitions of what we consider a drug user and a drug abuser or one being addicted and dependant on drugs. If we are to be brutally honest with ourselves there needs to be a harsh line drawn between the people who use drugs casually and those whose lives are being ruined by the drug in question. That is the first major issue we have to deal with, the second is the necessity to understand which drugs are harmful to our society and what laws can be introduced to combat it and what methods have failed in the past. So there are two issues at hand in this debate, the harm that is done to the lives and families of the drug user (personal rehabilitation) and the harm that is done to society as a whole (appropriate punishing and deterring of future activity). The following points will examine what should be the focus of an unbiased and rational strategy to tackle the consumption of drugs.
With the tackling of drugs working on many levels it is vital to break down any strategy in to understandable and attainable goals. Barton (2003) questions at what point we should deal with the issue, whether it be at the point of production, distribution or consumption. Ideally if we were able to get to the origins of the issue, that being the production then we would have pretty much got to the roots because if there isn’t a supply then there would be no one to cater to the market. However that is only half the problem because the reality of the issue is that many people are already addicted to certain substances whether it is physically or mentally.
Bean (2002) acknowledges the fact that the extent of drugs misuse is hard to quantify so it would be difficult to judge which people would be priority targets for punishments. Perhaps the strictest punishments for the offenders who commit the most damaging crimes rather than those who just take drugs recreationally as more often than not these people aren’t harming anybody but themselves.
Bennett (2004) suggests that those who are either addictive or dependent are more likely to cause crime than other drug users. Whilst I believe that this group of drug users should be given priority I’m not sure how much evidence there is to suggest this, especially in today’s world where technology and household appliances are cheaper than ever and to steal them to fund an individual’s habit would be far from profitable.
We should also acknowledge that everyone who uses drugs does not necessarily go done a path of criminal activity and despair. McIntosh (2002) concludes that there have been unreasonable moral panics surrounding cannabis use. Whilst this maybe true there are still harmful effects that need to be recognised. The fact that it can do just as much harm as smoking can to the heart and lungs and cause long-term paranoia should be embossed in young people’s minds very early on.
Berridge (1999) discusses how our attitudes have changed in the past towards the use of heroin because at the beginning of the 19th century heroin was used for the treatment of common ailments but by the 1920’s was declared a dangerous drug. The work of Gossop (2000) also talks of how normal it is for people to use drugs in our society, for example the consumption of caffeine and tobacco. Does this mean we should concentrate on the most harmful of substances? I believe it does.
The three aspects of substance control
Bertram (1996.p92) also thinks we should concentrate on ”reducing drug dependence, stemming the most harmful patterns of drug taking (such as intravenous drug use).” What we also have to remember is that tackling the drugs issue doesn’t always have to result in taking out harsh legal measures or classifying certain substances differently. In fact doing so in the past, especially in America has often resulted in continuous failure. In fact this is something that Dorn (1999) agreed with when suggesting that criminal law, whilst important doesn’t complete the whole process of tackling drugs and crime. As stated in the introduction there has to be a balanced approach that uses resources from institutions such as education, medical care, counselling and other guidance and support. Perhaps if we followed the European way rather than the harsh zero tolerance policies of America then we can start to give the problem a chance of resolving itself. ‘There are over half a million non-violent drug offenders in American prisons – a figure that more than exceeds the total prison population of Western Europe” Lyons, L (2003p185). This is the exact type of policy we should be staying clear of as it doesn’t address the issue at all but rather unnecessarily criminalizes a whole section of society that needs help and rehabilitation.
One of the most successful things this current government has done is to introduce the 2003-licensing act. This has overseen the extension of licensing hours and the dispersion of binge drinkers on to the streets over a longer number of hours. The true result of this policy is still to be seen but it is a more casual approach to consuming drugs and makes people feel like they don’t have to drink as much as they can and as fast as they can.
We have to realise why people become so engaged within drug culture that it becomes unhealthy for them and society. Prevention may not be feasible when stopping people trying drugs but it may be feasible in trying to stop people becoming addicted. Identifying and supporting these addictive personalities should be our main aim where possible. Parker (1998) suggests that drug taking is no longer down to rebellious behaviour but instead has become part of normal sub-cultural activities. As a reaction to this we should make it our aim to provide the youth of today with a wide range of affordable recreational opportunities to ensure they aren’t tempted to participate in any aspect of drugs. This should ideally include sports and other hobbies to keep them occupied and expand their energy in a positive way. However if sufficient help has been provided for an individual and they continue to relapse back into committing crimes whilst being under the influence of drugs then that individual should be punished and incarcerated where a strict and totally measurable detox programme should be set in place.
It may be wise to talk about abstinence with people who are dependent on drugs because there are plenty of people who take drugs that have enough discipline to keep it under control and are able to take them casually and safely. Whilst this may not be ideal for society it is realistic to accept that this goes on more than we think, we should be looking towards dropping the stigma that is attached to particular drug issues.
Blackman (2004) questions whether any drugs policy is viable and that drug use will go on regardless but as long as we can educate the youth then we are implementing the first steps alerting the nature of certain substances. Along with the drug education policies for primary and secondary schools this should be continued to try and reinforce the importance of abstinence and the harm that drugs can do to an individual. Henderson (1997) points out that we live in a culture of fear surrounding drugs that isn’t always necessary; one particular lifestyle that she describes is that around the ecstasy nightclubbing craze. This specific trend shows that most of the users are between a certain age and it only becomes the drug of choice during a short period of their lives most of which grow out of before their late 20s and there is little evidence to suggest it acts as a gateway drug to harder substances.
One of the most poignant studies into the use of drugs and how our government has failed in delivering was that done by Nick Davies (2003) in his article ‘How Britain is Losing the Drugs War’ which he states that for the ”12,500 serious drug users in Bristol there were 5 N.H.S detox beds available” http://www.guardian.co.uk/drugs/Story/0,961014,00.html. He also claims that workers in Drug Action Teams (D.A.T’s.) were bound by bureaucracy spending a large proportion of their time dealing with paperwork and obsessing over monitoring figures. This shows how we should be concentrating more on providing more detox beds and rehabilitation programmes for people especially the more vulnerable of those offenders such as those who have been in imprison for a certain time or have housing or mental health issues. Davies (2003) also describes how one inmate of ten years dies shortly after coming out of prison by filling his arm with heroin off the black market. Surely we have to make it legal, not from the point of view of reducing the number of its users but to be able to have more control over it and make sure users do not overdose or become infected. The aim then should focus this strategy on delivering on these issues. Perhaps measuring how effective treatment agencies are is hindering the progress of them as time and effort should be concentrated on the actual treatment
We have to tackle the effects of legal drug use such as the problems that come with alcohol. This isn’t just a question of illegal substances and the ability to make certain drugs legal because addiction and drug related crime exist with drugs that are already legal and in some cases crime is more prevalent amongst the percentage of alcohol users compared to those who regularly use ecstasy. According to government statistics ”nearly half (44%) of all violent incidents, victims believed offenders to be under the influence of alcohol.” ( http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/crime-victims/reducing-crime/alcohol-related-crime/?version=4.) There have been similar findings on alcohol related crime by other sociologists, Inciardi (1999.p31) states that in America ”54% of all jail inmates convicted of violent crimes in 1983 reported having used alcohol just prior to committing their offence.” Whilst this is a legalised drug there must be some character traits of people that show why they become aggressive when drinking or why they drink to such an extent. To find this out should be another aim of our strategy.
As South (1998) points out that we must look at each drug and sub culture with some sympathy to race, gender and locality as every regional problem has its differences. It should be an aim of this strategy to not ignore this behaviour but let people know of the long-term effects upon our health. This would free up a lot of police and other governmental resources on tackling violent drug offenders. Coomber (1998p149) agrees that our aims should be to ”a) reducing the risk of an individual engaging in drugs misuse and b) reducing the harm associated with drug misuse.” Whilst the context of drugs misuse will differ from society to society as discussed by Klingemann (1998), we should concentrate on those similar to our own to help with any strategies that we may implement. It would be unwise to look at the harsh regimes of the Far East to look at how they deal with drug issues as they have a different history to ours.
In conclusion we should look at some of the views that can be implemented with our drugs strategy and the problems that each one may face. Whilst there is sensible evidence to suggest the legalisation of heroin in order to control it there is no saying that black market heroin will totally disappear, in fact it may even become cheaper and dirtier. If this was to happen then greater emphasis should be placed on tackling drug trafficking something that Dorn (1992) tells us that police and border control have increasingly difficulty in doing. With all the recommendations that have been previously outlined we also have to bear in mind the scale of the issue on question. According to Strang (2005.p2) there are an estimated 250,000 heroin users in the U.K alone. According to http://archive.gulfnews.com/articles/07/04/19/10119206.html this figure may be as high as 281,000 in England without including the other countries in the U.K. This goes to show the enormity of the task at hand. We have to admit that this is an issue that may not ever be resolved but if there is dedicated manpower allocated to the people who need it most and there is appropriate punitive methods that not only contain the offender but also try and rehabilitate them in order to re-enter in to society as a better person then we are making positive progress. If we concentrate our strategy on the youth of today and get them interested in sports, sciences and just general activities then that would be the biggest blessing any society could ask for.