Former drug minister Bob Ainsworth’s call for heroin and cocaine to be legally available for sale or by prescription at chemists is not just wrong, it is dangerous and reckless.
We saw the consequences of sending out mixed messages about drugs to our young people when Tony Blair’s government downgraded cannabis only for it to be upgraded again a few years later when the impact of their mistake became apparent.
Mr Ainsworth may have failed as a drugs Minister and raised the white flag in the war on drugs but this Government has not, and I hope Ed Miliband and Ed Balls will condemn his foolish comments today.
Just last week the Home Office announced a radical change to our nation’s drug policy which refuses to accept that more and more drug use is inevitable. Mr Ainsworth is right when he says the previous approach failed but that does not mean to say we should give up.
Last year the NHS spent £235 million prescribing methadone to heroin addicts. That equates to £500 a minute or the equivalent of 11,000 NHS nurses. More than 95,000 people last year were on state induced methadone dependency and the fact that more than a quarter of all users were still hooked four years later proves what a failure harm minimisation and methadone prescribing has been, particularly because the vast majority of methadone users use other drugs on top.
The answer is not as Mr Ainsworth suggests, to legalise all drugs, but instead to continue to tackle the supply and vastly improve how we treat drug users. The Coalition Government’s commitment to abstinence based recovery programmes, as championed by Iain Duncan Smith, offers a huge chance to tackle long term addiction and get people drug free for good.
I doubt whether Mr Ainsworth has spoken to drug users recently, but I have. This morning I rang Jamie, a constituent of mine, who after years as a prolific heroin addict, has been drug free for three years thanks to the support of the Burton Addiction Centre. “What do you think of calls to legalise drugs?” I asked. “It’s very simple,” said Jamie. “On the day you legalise it, can you send round the police car to slap on the handcuffs and take me to prison, because if you don’t I know I’ll be dead in six months.”
I know whose views I think make most sense in this debate. And those are Jamie’s.