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Drugs – Time to be thinking differently

Have you ever sat in on a conversation and been captivated not just by the speakers but by the involvement of the audience?

Last week I was part of a fantastic conversation on a subject that has in many ways shocked Scotland into action.  As part of the ACE Aware conversation series an event was organised to discuss trauma and its links to addiction and the resultant drugs deaths that have been discussed widely in our national media.

Along with many others I sat for the hour listening to individuals with front line experience of this deep-rooted issue.  I also spent that hour reading posts from attendees which both communicated the realities of the topic as well as a desire to respond.

I’ve said this many times before, that the prevention of any issue starts in the community.  That night I saw that ‘Community in motion’ I often talk about.

Questions were asked, points were raised, and it was clear that the community was ready to respond.  This all made me very hopeful that we can make a difference and indeed reduce our drug death numbers.

Drugs taking and the negative consequences formed a major part of my policing career.  I was a Constable working in the Trainspotting culture of the late 1980’s.  The term ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ comes to mind. 

Drugs were everywhere and I was never short of a reason to exercise my powers under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Fast forward to my time spent with the Violence Reduction Unit and it became clear that I probably created more problems than I solved when using this piece of legislation.  It is worth noting that this piece of law that was brought in to fight the war on drugs is 50 years old this year.

Trauma was a word I didn’t understand.  Policing didn’t talk about it. Back then the response would probably be “trauma, what’s that got to do with policing?” Policing simply focused on the illegal behaviours that were encountered.  On the front line in the war against drugs I now know disrupted work opportunities, probably ended tenancies, split up families and as I say created more problems than I thought I was solving.

The prohibition approach to drugs is simply an approach peddled by governments with a simple aim is to use the ‘tough on crime’ narrative to win votes.  Actually, this approach has probably led to communities being far from safe.  Annual crime surveys confirm that communities don’t feel safe.  The approach has also cost the tax-payer huge amounts of funds to address the consequences of the ‘illegal’ drug taking. 

I felt confident using my powers of search.  I remember (before days of needing surveillance permission) running drugs operations from the first floor of the Woolworths in the New Kirkgate.  As said, it was like shooting fish in a barrel.  Drugs were recovered, people were arrested, and backs were patted. 

But I made no difference.  When one dealer goes another one fills the void.  The money is the focus for the supplier and where there is demand there will be a dealer.

Watch this film by the campaign group Anyone’s Child which seeks to end the war on drugs, better protect our children and get drugs under control.  The film I think explains what I’ve just said.

Let’s go back to that question I asked about trauma “What’s trauma got to do with policing?”  Well in my experience it’s got everything to do with policing and it’s got a lot to do with the issues we face around drugs. 

Any drug for the person addicted is an escape from the trauma they have faced and the trauma they continue to face.  A criminal Justice approach whilst necessary for some issues doesn’t really support the main body of people that policing come into contact with when addressing drugs.

The event I started discussing at the start of this piece has given me hope.  Hope that a different approach that focuses on the health of individuals and the addressing of the trauma that leads to many of societies issues is one that people in Scotland actually want.

Another community that is emerging in Scotland is one made up of serving and retired police officers.  Some of you reading this will be confused by this.  Isn’t policing is about enforcing the law? Yes it is, but as I’ve discussed above myself and other officers feel that when it comes to drugs the law isn’t working.

The Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) Scotland launches this week.  LEAP’s purpose is quite simple, to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from our current drug policies and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and dependence.  LEAP wants to shift focus from a criminal justice approach to one with a public health focus for drugs and mental health.

Taking the money away from the dealer is key.  It’s a scary move don’t you think?  Remember we have all been conditioned by some politicians and the media who have communicated a one message approach for decades.  In my view all the best ideas are the ones that initially scare the hell out of you.

We can all do the knowledge on this subject.  I like many other police officers have and we are convinced that the evidence available supports this move. 

Any public health approach needs a society wide response and one that includes all of you.  As I said, I left that event last week feeling hopeful. 

We need a different conversation on this age-old problem.  A conversation not kept within groups of academics or professionals.  In my view we will all reap the benefits of this new approach.

1264 – This was the number of people who died in Scotland from drug misuse.  It’s common for us all to look at this number as just that, a number.  The first thing we can all do differently is to look at the people behind these statistics.  They were someone’s mother, father, son or daughter.  They had friends. 

Do we wait until we lose a friend before we act or, do we act now?  Get involved.  Be part of the ‘Community in Motion’.

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