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Launch of "From War to Work: Drug Treatment, Social Inclusion and Enterprise"

By Rowena Young.

Read the event report from the launch of "From War to Work," held at the Design Council on Monday 20th May 2002.

Launch of "From War to Work"

by Rowena Young

in association with Globalegacy

Monday 20th May 2002, 10.00am-12.00pm at the Design Council

On Monday, 20th May The Foreign Policy Centre launched "From War to Work: Drug treatment, social inclusion and enterprise," by Rowena Young. The key-speakers were: Jonathan Nicholls from MORI Social Research Institute, who spoke on recent trends in public attitudes towards drugs; David Cameron MP, member of the Home Affairs Select Committee on the work the committee has done on their forthcoming report on drugs policies, published on 22nd May; Jeff McAllister, London Bureau Chief of Time Magazine, on the state of the drugs debate in America; Adele Blakebrough, Founder and Executive Director of the Community Action Network and former Director of Kaleidoscope, on the challenges being faced by people working in drugs treatment field. Mark Leonard, Director of The Foreign Policy Centre, chaired the debate.

Background

In the run-up to the publication of the Home Affairs Select Committee report on drugs legislation, The Foreign Policy Centre held a debate on: 'Drugs: Is legalisation the answer?'

While focusing on the creation of a sensible legal framework for tackling drugs, speakers were asked to consider how we create a space for a radically different debate on drugs. Key issues discussed included:

  • the links between drug dependency and social exclusion
  • the importance of social rehabilitation, job creation and regeneration
  • the creation of frameworks for policy exchange both between government and grass roots treatment agencies and between different countries

Creating a new learning environment

Adele Blakebrough gave an insider's view on drug treatment and highlighted the need to narrow the gap between drug policy at government level and drug treatment practices at a grass roots level. Some examples of good practice include: providing easily accessible provision of entire treatment packages in a single location and concentrating on job creation and employment as one of the key issues in drugs rehabilitation. The failure to link employment and drug treatment, for example, has lead to short-term approaches which tackle the symptoms of drug dependency but have failed to create integrated and long-term treatment models.

Changing the focus of the debate

David Cameron spoke about the taking of evidence carried out by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

He set out four key challenges:

a. Focus on law enforcement alone had been a failure: targets on the whole have been limited to aspirational notions of a 'drugs free world' and were unreachable. The result has been doubling of the number of drug addicts and drug-related deaths in the last two decades. For example, while figures from Customs and Excise proved that they were becoming more effective at intercepting drugs coming into the country, their success was having very little effect on the availability of drugs on the street

b. Learning from abroad: Cameron drew attention to the international examples used in "From War to Work" and said they could prove to be very useful for the development of future treatment schemes.

c. "Let a thousand flowers bloom": Because drug treatment is an immensely complicated issue, we should not be looking at offering simple solutions. Treatment agencies, both at grass roots and government lever, need to look at every individual case and provide treatment based on needs. Furthermore, the complexity of the drug problem made simple positions (for example, the extremes of liberalisation vs. prohibition) untenable.

d. Changing the focus: Cameron agreed with the call made in 'From War to Work' for refocusing of the drugs debate on the more damaging drugs, which caused most death and crime.

Examining public attitudes towards drugs

Jonathan Nicholls presented the findings of MORI research of public opinion in Lambeth following the introduction of trials under which people possessing small amounts of drugs received a warning rather than a caution or prosecution. The polls conducted by MORI for the Police Foundation, involved more than 2000 residents and showed some interesting results. 74% of people in the borough believed that the scheme would reach its aim of redirecting police time into more serious crimes. Meanwhile, 36% of those interviewed approved of the scheme and another 47% approved if the police spent more time tackling serious crime. 64% of the population agreed that the scheme would have a positive impact on community relations. On the other hand, qualitative research conducted simultaneously by MORI showed that some people were concerned that the scheme made it seem as though the police had "given up" on enforcing the law on soft drugs and questioned whether the police would actually redirect its time to tackling other issues. A national survey carried out in parallel showed that there was a slightly less approval, 27% compared to 36% in Lambeth, towards implementing such a scheme on a national level.

Opening, not closing, the debate

Jeff McAllister focused on the drugs debate in America and the huge cost of the war against drugs. Every year the US government spends $100 billion dollars on tackling drug and imprisons 460 000 people for drug related crimes. Drug addicts in jail are today treated through so-called "coercive abstinence" methods and since 11th September policies towards better drug treatment programmes have become less of a priority. He criticised the current administration's moralistic approach towards drug policy and the unilateral belief in working for "a drug-free America". "They still think they can beat it!" as McAllister put it. McAllister did however point toward incidences of good practice in the US. Although they are faced with massive criticism, some state governors have tried to initiate a debate on the decriminalisation of softer drugs. He also spoke of the "Delancey Street" project in San Francisco, which involves mutual support programmes and income generation through enterprises such as the sale of Christmas trees. He concluded that this is sort of small-scale initiative shares a lot of the elements of the case studies in "From War to Work".

"From to War to Work" claims that the "war on drugs" has failed because the debate has become polarised between the advocates of increased policing and incarceration of drug dealers and users, and those who favour the 'treatment model' and approach drug addiction as a disease. "From War to Work" demonstrates that neither group has had much success in reducing the soaring number of drug users.

This important report is part of The Foreign Policy Centre's exploration of the interrelatedness of foreign and domestic policy. It costs £9.95 and is available from Central Books, Tel: 020 8986 4854.