Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Afghan heroin production out of control

Three years ago, the Shadow Home Secretary David Davis warned that the Government were failing in their international obligation to bring Afghan opium production under control. At this point heroin made from Afghan opium poppies was already flooding the British market and was on the brink of becoming the main supplier to the rest of the world. Today a report published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has confirmed those fears with more than 90% of the world's heroin being produced in Afghanistan, compared to 30% in the 1980s.

So why should we care in Chatham & Aylesford? The Government's failure to meet its obligation to curb opium production has led to mass supply which in turn means cheaper heroin for users. Heroin addiction quite often leads to crime but most of all it leads to misery, pain, sadness and often tragedy for users and their families. And the sad fact is that despite launch and relaunch of drug strategies, drug use in the UK is still high.

So what should be done? In my view something needs to be done on both the supply and demand side. Concentrating on one aspect of the equation alone will not work. Taking the supply side first, on Afghan opium a fresh look needs to be taken at how we can prevent opium poppies grown the other side of the world ending up on the streets of Kent or elsewhere in the UK. Suggestions such as offering farmers incentives to grow other crops are destined to fail because they will never earn as much as they do on poppies. I personally like the idea of Governments paying the same price for the poppies as the drug barons and then either destroying them or using the plant for medicines. In the long run it will probably turn out cheaper than the continual failed attempts to destroy fields of crops.

Alongside the actual destruction of the plant we need better border controls ensuring that the drugs don't get into the country in the first place. And for those that do, the demand side needs to be tackled too. We need a better system of residential rehabilitation, giving help to addicts under a similar system of court supervision which has worked so effectively in the USA. We need stronger and tougher drugs education highlighting to youngsters the impact on themselves and society of taking hard drugs. And we need stiffer penalties for those who deal drugs, especially to teenagers and children - at the moment a dealer is likely to serve short stint in prison and will probably walk out onto the streets and pick up where he left off.

It is quite clear that the Government have failed in their drugs strategy both at home and abroad. Something has to be done or we'll see this same report next year and the year after from the UN Office of Drugs and Crime and quite simply hard drug use in the UK will continue to rise.

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