Tolerance of drugs means zero results

PUBLISHED: 11:48 21 August 2008 | UPDATED: 16:29 05 May 2010

I SERIOUSLY wonder what chance youngsters stand of leading a drug-free, healthy life when they have role models such as crack-smoking Amy Winehouse and heroin-injecting Pete Doherty. Figures released last week reveal that children aged under 16 admitted t

I SERIOUSLY wonder what chance youngsters stand of leading a drug-free, healthy life when they have role models such as crack-smoking Amy Winehouse and heroin-injecting Pete Doherty.

Figures released last week reveal that children aged under 16 admitted to hospital to be treated for overdoses or drug-induced mental problems jumped a whopping 43 per cent, from 868 in 1996/97 to 1,241 last year.

In the population as a whole, the figures from the NHS Information Centre reveal a massive rise in admissions where drug abuse was the primary diagnosis or underlying cause, with figures doubling over the past decade to 38,170 last year.

Among 15-year-old boys, 42 per cent have admitted taking illegal drugs - including 32 per cent in the past year.

These figures provide a perfect opportunity for the Conservatives to bash Labour over the head with a great big political stick, as the increase in these alarming statistics can be plotted since Labour came into power in 1997.

Indeed the shadow home secretary, Dominic Grieve, is just one of the Tories who has been unable to resist the temptation to pipe up and take a pop at Labour, calling the statistics "a shocking indictment of Labour's failure to tackle the scourge of drugs".

But this issue is about much more than political point-scoring - it's a matter of life and death. There are no two ways about it - drug users are dicing with death and something drastic must be done to save lives.

I used to work for the probation service and had the job of inputting drug test results from offenders on a Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO), and it made a very depressing read.

Every day most would test positive for at least one drug, often two, and sometimes three. Only a handful stayed clean for a day, and testing negative two days on the trot was virtually unheard of.

The probation officer I worked for said offenders would finish a DTTO, reoffend and be given yet another DTTO. It was a never-ending cycle with the same familiar faces.

For most, the DTTOs were clearly having little, if any, effect and it felt as though the probation service was going through the motions, resigned to the fact it would achieve nothing. As far as I know, nothing has changed.

In a bid to tackle the rising drug problem in our country, it would be a good start if the police took a zero tolerance approach.

The system is doing no favours to drug users by going soft on them. There needs to be a much tougher approach to the problem and it needs to be strictly stuck to. Of course it won't act as a deterrent to everyone, but it will to some, and that makes it worth doing.

Impressionable youngsters see pop stars and models taking drugs and not only do they think it's fashionable, they also see these celebrities seemingly getting away with it.

Earlier this year, Pete Doherty served just 29 days of a 14-week sentence for breaching his probation. He had originally been handed a four-month suspended jail sentence in October for possessing crack cocaine, heroin, ketamines and cannabis but the judge said he was often late or missed his probation appointments altogether and had used different drugs.

It's not rocket science to realise that if a zero tolerance approach to drugs is employed and this leads to a fall in the number of drug users, it will also lead to a fall in drug-related crime. It's a win-win situation so let's get on with a crackdown, so to speak

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