The Government's newly published drugs strategy, entitled From harm to hope, is a welcome combination of enforcement, rehabilitation and prevention. It has often been said that the so-called "war on drugs" has failed, yet the alternative that is presented is often one of permissiveness that lacks public support and does not address much of the harm caused by drugs beyond the clear impact on the user.
Thames Valley Police have been leading the way in many areas, demonstrating effective interventions, whilst maintaining enforcement. As Police & Crime Commissioner I have been able to support a number of these schemes and I welcome this new strategy from central government that seeks to support individuals and communities away from the harm caused by drug use, but maintains strong enforcement against those who seek to impose harm on others.
Much has been made in the press about the focus on so-called middle-class drug users. The attention given to this does not do just to the depth of the proposed strategy, but it is nevertheless an important point. Whilst the focus on habitual, problem-users is key to ensuring the generational shift we need, the apparent acceptance by society of recreational drug use is part of our problem. How can we hope to protect the homeless or abused from the harm of a life plagued by drug addiction when so many of our apparently otherwise law-abiding citizens are content to fuel the trade. Those professionals in our suburbs and market towns across Thames Valley who see no harm in their casual use of illegal drugs need to recognise the hideous supply chain that they are feeding. Young children within our own communities as effectively enslaved to criminal gangs in order to service this industry, not to mention the suffering of those involved in the production of the drugs overseas.
It is absolutely right therefore that we continue to bear down on county-lines gangs as we have been doing in Thames Valley, and step up the action taken against street drug dealers as well as utilising the proposed new sanctions against drug users. Good though this is, if it were the sum total of the Government's approach the new strategy would be pretty two-dimensional.
The true strength comes in the combination of police enforcement with a real effort to rehabilitate. This comes partly through a significant expansion in treatment programmes, but also by moves such as removing drugs from our prison system. Previous studies have suggested that one-in-six prisoners take drugs on any given day. If we cannot control access to harmful, illegal substances in an environment that should be the most restricted then what hope to do we have in wider society. More importantly if our prison population leaves custody addicted to drugs any attempt at rehabilitation and reducing reoffending are futile.
In the past the public debate has resembled a swinging pendulum, moving from eternal condemnation of every drug user, straight to legalisation and state sale of harmful drugs. Built on the excellent work of Dame Carol Black the approach now being proposed tries to bridge that gap. A tough and rigorous approach from the police, accompanied by a genuine attempt to prevent and rehabilitate. This strategy recognises the harm created by drug use that goes far beyond the user, but can destroy their family and their community. The strategy is as ambitious as the timescale is long, but I welcome this new strategic thinking and it supports much of the work already being done within Thames Valley.