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04 October 2010
The battle against drugs has been lost, says Mev Brown, and he has a wealth of depressing figures to back this claim up. If what he says is true, then what should we do to tackle this enduring and always controversial problem?
What do these sort of police raids mean, and do they make a difference?
I fear the answer to those questions are 'Not much'
The word on the street suggests that police operations result in nothing more than a minor, inconsequential disruption to the supply of drugs.
That is to say, obtaining class 'A' drugs is as tricky as a trip to the nearest dealer - who is usually as far away as the proverbial corner shop.
In fact, these days most people use several dealers. So if one dealer is arrested, no problem - just go to the next. Indeed, these days, many dealers provide a home delivery service.
With this new "retail availability", the drugs market has become competitive and fragmented, with prices falling and dealers borrowing tools from the retail industry.
For first timers there's the 'the first one is free' deal. For the more ambitious, there's the 'buy an ounce, get an once and a quarter' deal. There was a time when big police raids really would disrupt the drugs supply chain, and even resulting in increased prices. Those days are long gone.
Given the street view, you have to ask if the war on drugs is a political priority? The answer, again, would have to be 'Not really'.
Consider the allocation of manpower. The latest available figures show that, in June 2009, there were 64 Scottish Serious Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency officers within Lothian and Borders Police force.
In contrast, there were 45 traffic wardens and 139 parking attendants working in the same constabulary area at around the same time.
So, we have 184 personnel tackling the social scourge of illegal parking compared to 64 officers dealing with illegal drugs, amongst their other duties including serious fraud, people trafficking, money laundering, electronic crime, etc.
There were 86 drug-related deaths in the constabulary area last year, and no illegal parking related deaths.
The key question is: Just how effective are the police in the drug supply chain?
This is a difficult question to answer, as by definition the drugs market is a black, unregulated market.
Each sector within the drugs market will be different, but I would suggest the heroin sector could provide an indication of the overall impact of police operations.
To get a rough idea of the heroin sector, we can look at methadone.
What is known is the NHS supplies 540,000 litres¹ of methadone to over 22,000 Scottish addicts, and this works out at approximately 67ml of methadone per day, per addict.
The standard street trade is the £10 bag, which contains around 0.1 grams of
If we assume those currently using street heroin behave in the same way as those now on the methadone program did, then Scotland's 50,000 heroin addicts will use around 12,250kg of street heroin. That is over 12 metric tonnes being used in Scotland.
The Drug Enforcement Agency's seizures for 2009-10 were approx 54kg, this works out at 0.0044 per cent, less than half of 1 per cent, of the heroin I calculated might be coming into Scotland being seized. By any standards, this is a depressing figure.
I do not want to detract from the dangerous and difficult nature or the importance of the work these officers undertake. Instead, The spotlight must be put on the politicians for the lack of support officers get and the lack of resources for dealing with this problem over the last 30 years.
In 1960 there were 94 heroin addicts in the UK registered on the Home Office Index. By 1968 that had risen to 2240, and to 2400 by 1979.
Since then, there has been an explosion in heroin addiction with an estimated 500,000 in the UK. Scotland has an estimated 50,000 heroin and 22,000 methadone addicts.
In the last 50 years, and particularly the last 30 years, our politicians have failed us in spectacular fashion in tackling the war on drugs when it would have been easier.
Scotland's heroin addicts outnumber police by approximately 3 to 1.
Police seizures represent such a small amount they do not disrupt the drugs supply, so I feel it safe to say the war on drugs is over - we lost.
Regarding our politicians, there are two possibilities.
Either justice ministers know the truth and have been successful in hiding the truth from the public, or ministers didn't have a clue about what was going on.
Either way, how much confidence can the public have in the Justice Secretary at Holyrood or the Home Secretary in Westminster?
Each time a top police officer calls for the legalisation of drugs or for them to be made available on the NHS, there is a public outcry.
Now, perhaps, the public will at least understand why senior officers make these calls.
The question is where do we go from here?
• Mev Brown works with the homeless in Edinburgh. He will be standing as an independent candidate at next year's Scottish Parliament elections.
* Based on 1mg/ml. The actual volume is lower due to some dispensed in higher concentrations of 5mg/ml, 10mg/ml & 20mg/ml.