Friday, August 15, 2008

Loads of people taking drugs shock!

There are two main official UK drug use surveys each year, the British Crime Survey, and the Department of Health drug use school survey, now compiled together by the NHS Information Centre each year published today along with various other data from the DoH, the Home Office, Office for National Statistics, the Health Protection Agency and NTA. Notably (pay attention journalists) 'most of the data contained in the bulletin have been published previously', in fact the only unpublished figures are on drug-related admissions to hospital.

It is now a calendar fixture that each time these surveys are published the media will run 'loads of people taking drugs shock!' stories, demonstrating their goldfish-like ability to forget the 4 monthly repeated fact that, unbelievably, loads of people are in fact taking drugs. As regular as clockwork, this morning sees the Independent lead with one of its tabloid style front page headlines:

None of these facts are new or significantly different from last year, when loads of people were similarly taking drugs. The Home Office, with similar predictability will spin the prevalence figures as best they can, and try and show that drug use is actually falling, when it clearly isn't - especially when you look at the area that matters most - problematic use of heroin and cocaine which remains more or less stable at its historic Euro-league topping high.

The Sun front page has a similar theme:

As does the Daily Mail

If anything this tri-annual media ritual only serves to highlight, yet again, what stunningly poor value for money we are getting from our disastrous drug strategy and just how hollow all that political posturing about 'cracking down', 'getting tough', 'turning the corner' and 'zero tolerance' really is. But nothing it seems will prompt the Government to change course or give alternative approaches even fleeting consideration (even though many evidently think we should in private). Not the relentlessly bad news on drug use, misuse, drug related crime, or the spiralling catastrophes in Afghanistan or Colombia, nor the endless stream of authoritative high level reports spelling it all out in tedious detail. More of the same is all we are promised, with a bit of populist window dressing if you're lucky.

The DoH is quoted in the Independent parroting the usual line that:
"More people than ever before are getting into and staying in treatment, drug-related deaths are down and the level of drug-fuelled crime has fallen substantially."

Scratch beneath the surface and even these claims are either untrue or misleading. They dont measure drug related crime, drug deaths are not down, and even if treatment numbers are up no amount of throwing money at the problem or diddling the stats can hide the fact that treatment outcomes remain obstinately awful.

The Independent at least gives the Transform position a nod in its coverage :

Danny Kushlick, the head of policy at the drugs think-tank Transform, said the Government was burying its head in the sand by refusing to acknowledge that millions of people used drugs safely. "In order to maintain its position on prohibition, the Government has to show that all drug use is dangerous. Politicians find it very difficult to admit that 90 per cent of those who use drugs either have a boring or a fun time. Drug policy is overwhelmingly focused in a very skewed way on problem drug users. We should focus our attention more on managing use rather than mismanaging misuse.

"We need legal control and regulation of drug use. That is how we manage use of alcohol and we need the same for drugs."

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