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Gerry Stimson attacks government policy on drugs and crime


Professor Gerry Stimson, director of the Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour, has attacked the government for instigating: "one of the most unfortunate pieces of drugs legislation ever proposed".

The government commitment to reducing drug related crime has led to the currently proposed Crime and Probation Bill which includes mandatory drug testing of anybody arrested for a serious offence. The outcome, says Gerry, could have serious repercussions. A more balanced drugs policy and comprehensive public health strategy should be developed.

Gerry Stimson
Gerry Stimson, director of the Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour, is pictured with an opium pipe from the Shan state in Myanmar, formerly Burma, and several opium weights from northern Thailand
"In the last three years, the government has been much less interested in health issues and more in crime issues which I think is a mistake.

"If were not careful, we might see a resurgence of HIV infection and we should certainly be doing a lot more about hepatitis C than we are.

"The current drug strategy should be challenged. A lot of reasons exist as to why its misguided. Putting more people in prison who already inject, for instance, means they will continue to do so but in a much riskier way. The strategy also sends out a message which marginalises and stigmatises serious problem drug users, making it harder for treatment and prevention organisations to be able to reach them."

Professor Stimson warned that important health issues which encouraged good prevention work could become neglected and in some cases worsened by some of the policies proposed.

Drug testing proposed by the Bill could result in people who test positive for cocaine or heroin being denied bail, which amounts to a summary punishment, whilst the criminal justice process could be influenced by factors not connected with the alleged crime.

"I find this rather odd, coupled with the fact that a court trial could be prejudiced as the court would know a person had been drug tested and remanded.

"The proposals are a bit of a sledgehammer as theyre poorly targeted. Not everybody who tested positive would be connected with drug-related crime. Youre not identifying people with drug problems but with positive urine samples and theres a big difference between the two."

The government faces the problem of persuading fewer people to use drugs while limiting the damage among those who already do, he adds. As a third of the adult population has used an illicit drug at some time and a quarter of young people have used one in the last year, whatever is thrown at the situation is not going to change it overnight.

"In some way, you have to get good information to people to help them avoid hurting themselves. Drugs are high on the agenda, but the agenda is unbalanced.

"Both Jack Straw and Tony Blair have this 'tough on drugs' line but the drugs tsar, Keith Helliwell, appears to have been sidelined on this new policy.

"My advice to the government is to drop these latest proposals and introduce a drugs policy that gives weight to some of the public health issues connected with drug users and doesnt just focus on drugs and crime."

The Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour is part of the department of social science and medicine, primary care and population health sciences division.

*** © Imperial College 2000. This article originally appeared in IC Reporter, the staff newspaper of Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine. Please contact the editor Tanya Reed(Email: icreporter@imperial.ac.uk, Telephone: +44 20 7594 6697) for permission to re-use any or all parts of this article. ***

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