Is the war on drugs actually winnable?
About twenty years ago, I found that thieves had broken into our garden shed and stolen a clapped-out mower plus some electrical tools.
A few of my neighbours made the same discovery. Word soon spread that a local man, fresh out of prison, was busy conducting a one-man crimewave to feed his drug habit.
Despite being distinctly peed-off, I recall thinking how desperate (or drugged) the guy must have been to steal bulky items with such a modest second-hand value.
A couple of decades later, we’ve seen the problem of drug-related crime grow to industry levels. More significant though is how coping with the phenomenon rather than tackling it has become the norm.
It’s estimated that half of all ‘acquisitive’ crime - theft, burglary, fraud and shoplifting - is drug-related and that the market value of goods stolen involved could be as much as £2.5 billion every year.
This figure draws on police assessments that stolen items rarely get more than a third of true value and that the average user needs up to £30,000 a year to fund their addiction.
The headline statistics for heroin and crack-cocaine use are terrifying. When you further take into account the impact of so-called zombie dugs like ‘Spice’ then you start to see entire communities facing social breakdown.
There’s nothing unintentional about the trend either. Anyone who read the recent account by Evening Post crime reporter Jason Evans about ‘County Lines’, will have gained an insight on how the illegal drugs trade thrives on greed and human misery.
What makes an already dire situation potentially even more lethal is the emerging practice by dealers of mixing heroin with Fentanyl. This synthetic opioid is fifty times more potent than heroin.
The stark outcome is that reported deaths have risen steeply with Swansea and Neath Port Talbot recording among the highest rates in England and Wales.
Politicians I speak to all admit that the issue has reached a critical level but, as you would expect, there are polarised views about a solution.
Not surprisingly, it falls to those attempting to deal with the crisis on the ground to come up with pragmatic suggestions. One comes from South Wales police chief constable Matt Jukes.
His proposal is to provide drug consumption rooms. These are ‘field clinics’ where addicts can bring their own drugs to inject with clean needles under supervision and receive health checks.
The concept provides safe a place for users but also lessens the anti-social behaviour that plagues streets and local parks. At least, this has been the experience in Canada, Australia, and across Europe.
The idea has Scottish government backing but the Home Office is unconvinced so far. Accordingly, addicts at any clinic could be arrested for possession with staff arrested for assisting drug use. Even so, the initiative is gathering support.
Mr Jukes readily admits to a downside for anyone living or running a business in close proximity to a clinic. He also accepts that the plan can only be a small part of any solution to a widespread and complex problem.
But in the so-called war against drugs – which few think is actually winnable - maybe it’s time to stop bayonetting our own wounded and focus more on the true criminals behind this pitiless business.