A range of proposed harm reduction measures to cut drug-related crime and deaths, and reduce costs to public services, has been set out by West Midlands police and crime commissioner (PCC) David Jamieson. They include prescribing heroin in a medical setting for people who have not responded to other forms of treatment, establishing a formal scheme to divert people away from the courts and into treatment, and ‘considering the benefits’ of consumption rooms.
Other measures in the PCC’s report include joining up funding streams for police, public health and community safety to increase efficiency, introducing on-site drug testing in the night time economy, and equipping and training police in the use of naloxone. More money could also be seized from large-scale drug dealers to invest in treatment, it says.
Half of all burglary, theft, shoplifting and robbery in the region is thought to be committed by people with serious drug issues, at a cost of £1.4bn per year. Jamieson’s announcement follows similar proposals from other PCCs including those for Durham (DDN, March 2017, page 4) and North Wales (DDN, September 2017, page 5).
‘Despite the good work being done by many, collectively our approach to drugs is failing,’ said Jamieson. ‘It means people are forced to live with more crime, public services are put under strain and not enough is done to reduce the suffering of those who are addicted. If we are to cut crime and save lives there’s one thing we can all agree on; we need fresh ideas. These are bold but practical proposals that will reduce crime, the cost to the public purse and the terrible harm caused by drugs.’
Jamieson wanted to see many of the measures ‘in place and having an effect’ by the end of his term of office in 2020, he said. ‘I will be working with partner organisations intensively over the coming period to deliver on these practical and common-sense proposals.’
The announcement has been welcomed by organisations including Release, Transform, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). The recommendations were an ‘important and welcome contribution to the growing momentum behind common sense drug policy reform in the UK’, said RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer. ‘Health professionals, police, and the public are all agreed that a public health – rather than criminal justice – approach to drug policy is what is needed to tackle rising rates of drug harm in this country and beyond. It is heartening to hear more influential voices, with on the ground experience of these issues, give these measures their backing.’
The measures ‘would undoubtedly save lives if implemented’, added Release executive director Niamh Eastwood. ‘Yet again, the police are leading the way in the debate for drug policy reform while the government continues to pursue the failed approach of prohibition and criminalisation. The government must consider the insight of police officers, many of whom are on the frontline of the so-called war on drugs, witnessing the horrific impacts that prohibition has on communities every day.’