Ministers announced the new drug strategy will be a two-pronged solution to an age-old problem and predicted it will prevent 1,000 drug-related deaths reversing a ten-year upward trend. Joining a police raid in Liverpool, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Too many people have their lives blighted by these county lines gangs, so you’ve got to do two things at once.
“You’ve got to be tougher on the county lines gangs, you’ve got to be tougher on the criminals who are doing it, but you’ve also got to make sure that you find those 300,000 people and you help them away.
“You can’t simply arrest them time after time and put them back in prison again and again. You’ve got to do rehab as well.”
The drug strategy follows a Government-commissioned review of drug policy by Dame Carol Black that found spending on treatment for drug abuse fell by 17 percent in the four years up to 2018-19.
Drug rehab charities warn that, while welcomed, it is overdue investment into a problem made worse by previous local authority budget cuts.
Oliver Standing, director of Collective Voice – a national alliance of drug and alcohol treatment and recovery charities – told Sky News: “I think the funding will go a long way to rebuild the treatment and recovery system in this country.
“We used to have a system that we could legitimately describe as being world class, I don’t think that’s true anymore because of the terrible cuts we’ve experienced.”
As part of the Government’s long-term plan, it says police will carry out 6,400 “disruptions” against the activities of organised criminals, targeting the road and rail networks they use while protecting vulnerable young people exploited by the gangs to run drugs for them.
Under the new measures, when dealers are arrested, police will be able to seize their mobile phones and use them to send messages to their clients to discourage drug use and direct them to support.
The Prime Minister said the Government was “not going to sit idly by” while so-called “lifestyle users” indulge in drug taking, arguing that “all demand is helping to create the problem”.
A White Paper will propose “a set of tougher sanctions” for “recreational” drug users, whose usage it is claimed helps fuel county lines dealing.
This could include the prospect of users facing curfews or losing their driving licences or passports if they repeat offend.
However, many will be surprised that the Government is injecting more into rehab than the additional £300m earmarked for the police which it is claimed will help shut 2,000 county lines.
This, in itself, is an admission that drug lines rise again in places where they are dismantled – as the National Police Chiefs’ Council said in October that the number of county lines had been reduced from 2,000 in 2018 to approximately 600 active lines.
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The Government also proposes an expansion of drug testing on arrest, with police encouraged to direct individuals who test positive towards treatment or other relevant interventions.
This could include attendance at drug awareness courses with criminal sanctions for those who continue to use.
Judges will be given the power to order drug tests on offenders serving community sentences for drug-related crimes, with the prospect of jail if they test positive.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the drug problem had “got a lot worse” over the past decade and accused the Tories of taking “millions and millions” of pounds out of the systems for tackling drug use and drug-related crime.
“I want the Prime Minister to take responsibility for the money that’s been taken out of criminal justice in the last ten years that’s caused many of these problems.”