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Drug Addiction And The Law

According to a recent newspaper report, Britain has the “highest levels of addiction and multi-drug consumption” in Europe and the second highest rate of drug related deaths. The illegal drug market is estimated at more than £5 billion a year, most of it being profit for suppliers and dealers. Over 300,000 drug users commit a high number of offences, from shoplifting to violent crime. Drug abuse and the repercussions are sadly on the increase, despite the Government’s hard line drug policies and increased jail sentences.

Whilst there are many programmes aimed at drug prevention, many young people in Britain have contact with drugs and experience in drug usage. Cannabis is still the most commonly used illegal drug whilst a minority uses amphetamines and LSD. Most drug-related harm occurs from Class A drug dependency, notably cocaine and heroin and the number of people with serious problems is rising.

Legal Quandary

Drug addiction can be typified as a dependency on a substance, which may create a behavioural change. The law will only punish us for the actions we have control over, so if an addict is not responsible for his actions due to the addiction, what can the law do?  It can be argued that addiction is not an illness, and that crime is crime, no matter what the circumstances are behind it. But there are those who would argue that addiction is indeed an illness and therefore jailing addicts will not resolve the problem.

The Consequences

In 1971 the Misuse of Drugs Act came into force with huge changes brought about in 2005 due to our understanding of drugs and addictions. The main principle has remained the same throughout – illegal drugs are dangerous and those who use them or deal in them are criminals. With the current classifications of A, B and C drugs, “A” being considered “hard drugs”, anyone found possessing class A drugs can be fined or jailed for up to seven years, or both. Possessing these drugs with the intention of supplying them can result in life imprisonment.

The 2005 Act introduced the option for courts to recommend offenders for community service and treatment instead of prison, though this remains at the court’s discretion. Whilst there is a connection drawn between addiction and other crimes, many addicts still find themselves behind bars when their compulsion leads them into criminal activities.

It would appear that those addicted to illegal drugs are still cast as villains, rather than victims. Whilst they may be responsible for developing their illness, the question must be, should they be held accountable for the symptoms? With the cost of jailing addicts amounting to billions of pounds every year, the taxpayer and society are being heavily penalised. Treatment, as opposed to punishment, has shown that dealing with the illness rather than the aftermath is beneficial to both the individuals concerned and the public’s pockets. Perhaps it is now time for politicians to build up the courage to stop seeing addicts as a threat and start supporting alternative measures.

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