Ronnie Cowan MP
Thank you, Mr Gapes; I was hoping to have longer on my feet—I am sure you will understand that; but much of what I was going to say was elegantly covered by the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), so I shall skip those parts of my speech.
The important point is that no financial cost that can be attributed to drug addiction comes close to matching the human cost. The deaths of loved ones, the sufferings of addicts, wasted lives and the associated suffering far outweigh any amount of money that has been spent fighting the war on drugs. Yet we continue to pour time, effort and money into a system that emphasises criminal prosecution. Since Mexico intensified its approach to drug law enforcement, more than 100,000 people have died and 20,000 are missing. The personal testimonies from members of Anyone’s Child are heartfelt and painful. It calls on the Government
“to regulate drugs to reduce the risk they pose”.
It says that,
“legal regulation doesn’t mean a free-for-all where drugs are widely available—our current laws have already achieved that”.
We need to take control away from the criminal fraternity. Across the world for more than 50 years the war on drugs has killed the innocent and made the guilty rich. It has destroyed communities and compounded the difficulties faced in addressing addiction problems. As we know, the UK Government spend around £1.6 billion a year on drug law enforcement. As was pointed out earlier, even the Government know that their drug policy has failed. Last night I attended an event hosted by Addaction. A gentleman who is in recovery said, “As humans we judge. It keeps us safe. Before you judge try to see the person”.
What can the Government do? Safer drug consumption rooms, which we have talked about, are already saving lives in eight European countries as well as in Canada and Australia. They have been endorsed by the British Medical Association. Those facilities reduce the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, and the risks of public drug use. No one has ever died of an overdose in a DCR anywhere in the world. That is the third time that statement has been heard this afternoon, and it will be heard again.
Heroin-assisted treatment is also being successfully implemented in several European countries, and is endorsed by the British Medical Association. In 2016, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated that,
“central government funding should be provided to support heroin-assisted treatment”
for patients for whom other forms of opioid substitution treatment have not been effective. I think that there is agreement here about that, but the Government have failed to act on that request.
Specialist drug checking services can allow people at nightclubs and festivals to find out what is in their batch. Data from recent UK trials showed that one in five people found that they did not have the drug that they expected, and 80% of that group then chose to use a smaller quantity, avoid mixing it with other substances, or dispose of their batch altogether.
Perhaps a financial justification is required, rather than a humanitarian one: researchers in the US Office of National Drug Control Policy have confirmed what has already been said about expenditure on treatment being more than paid for elsewhere, as they estimate that $1 spent on substance abuse treatment saves $4 in healthcare costs and $7 in law enforcement costs. Not only does drug abuse treatment save lives—it saves billions of dollars as well.
While drug use continues across society we must note that addiction can and does affect people from all walks of life. Only 10% percent of drug users will develop an addiction, and addiction does not respect race, creed, colour, religion, gender or financial standing. However, as is often the case, it is the poorest who suffer the most. In 2008, the Scottish Government published the national drugs strategy for Scotland, “The Road to Recovery”. That set out a new strategic direction for tackling problem drug use, based on treatment services promoting recovery. The Scottish Government have invested £689 million to tackle problem drug and alcohol use since 2008, and education has been an important part of the strategy.
Kirstene Hair MP (Intervention)
Drug-related deaths are a particular problem in Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman has outlined, including in my constituency, where they are rapidly increasing—at a faster rate than in England and Wales. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Scottish Government need to get serious about addressing problems in NHS Scotland, such as the staff shortages in Angus, and the problems that Police Scotland face?
Mike Gapes MP (Chair)
Order. The hon. Lady is making an intervention, not a speech, and I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Inverclyde would respond to it briefly.
Ronnie Cowan MP
I shall cover that point right now: Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell has announced a refreshing of Scotland’s drugs strategy. We will not be complacent about what we have achieved, and we will continue to take an evidence-based approach, and to improve what we are doing in Scotland. We have been working on the seek, keep and treat framework, a joint initiative between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Drugs Forum, which will examine the operational implications of engaging with older drug users and how to encourage them into services and keep them in treatment.
For many people it is heroin, cocaine or cannabis that are classified as drugs; but we must not ignore alcohol. Alcohol addiction is one of the most damaging forms of drug addiction.
Mike Gapes MP (Chair)
Order. Is the hon. Gentleman coming to the end of his remarks? Perhaps he can give his last sentence; otherwise the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) will not be able to make a speech.
Ronnie Cowan MP
Absolutely, Mr Gapes.
In conclusion, if we spend money to address addiction problems as a health issue, that will not only bring about better results, but will prove to be less expensive than our current strategy, which criminalises and stigmatises people with addiction problems.
My full speaking notes for the debate can be found here.