On Monday, the government unveiled a 10-year drugs strategy in England and Wales against a backdrop of headlines claiming ministers would get tough with drug gangs and crackdown on casual middle-class users.
The tone was set by Boris Johnson, who said Class A drugs are “bad for society” as he vowed to “come down hard” on the gangsters peddling unlawful narcotics.
Ministers claimed the total cost to society is put at nearly £20 billion a year, with the Home Office suggesting 300,000 heroin and crack addicts in England are responsible for nearly half of acquisitive crime, including burglary and robbery, while drugs drive nearly half of all homicides.
Here’s five policies the government has floated.
1. Target drug gangs
Some £300 million has been earmarked to cut off the supply of class A drugs by city-based crime rings to the surrounding county areas – known as county lines operations.
The aggressive campaign includes a commitment to dismantle more than 2,000 county lines over the next three years, involving thousands more arrests. The National Police Chiefs’ Council said in October that the number of county lines had reduced from 2,000 in 2018 to approximately 600 active lines at any one time.
Police will carry out 6,400 “disruptions” against the activities of organised criminals, targeting the road and rail networks they use while protecting vulnerable young people exploited by the gangs to run drugs for them.
When dealers are arrested, police will be able to seize their mobile phones and use them to send messages to their clients to discourage drug use and direct them to support..
2. Crackdown on casual drug users
The headlines ahead of the strategy’s publication made a great play of middle class drug use also being targetted – which could include removing the passports and driving licences of offenders.
The introduction to the strategy states: “For adults taking recreational drugs, who are too often sheltered from the serious violence, human exploitation, severe addiction and crime of the drugs trade, there will be tougher consequences which will be felt more strongly than today.
“A White Paper next year will consider a series of escalating sanctions such as curfews or the temporary removal of a passport or driving licence, and increased fines.”
3. Drug treatment
The government has announced it will invest £780 million in drug treatment in an effort to break the “cycle of crime” fuelled by addiction.
The money will go towards the development of a “world-leading” system to support the recovery of those dependent on drugs, prioritising areas with the greatest need, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
The DHSC said that all local authorities in England will receive new money for drug treatment and recovery over the next three years.
The 50 areas in greatest need will get the cash first, to fast-track better access to treatment for the most vulnerable, it added.
A tag which tells whether people have taken drugs could be used to combat crime in future, a minister said on Monday,.
The device, similar to the ankle-mounted sobriety tag currently used to prevent alcohol-related crimes, would detect whether someone had taken illegal drugs through regular samples of their sweat.
Home Office minister Kit Malthouse told MPs that he had recently met with Korean authorities, where the technology is being developed, and added the government was interested in investing in the monitors.
5. Drug testing
Also included in the plan was an expansion of drug testing on arrest, with police encouraged to direct individuals who test positive towards treatment or other relevant interventions.
This could include attendance at drug awareness courses with criminal sanctions for those who continue to use.
Judges will be given the power to order drugs tests on offenders serving community sentences for drugs-related crimes, with the prospect of jail if they test positive.
The strategy said: “A £15 million expansion of drug testing on arrest through police forces across England and Wales will be rolled out from April 2022. All forces will have the technology to test people arrested for trigger offences, such as acquisitive crimes (such as burglary, robbery and theft), for cocaine and for certain opiates.”