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Illegal Drugs

Volume 495: debated on Monday 6 July 2009

Illegal drug use is a hidden activity and the actual number of people addicted to any drug is unknown. However, it is estimated that 329,000 people in England were problematic drug users in 2006-07—that is, people using either opiates, crack cocaine or both.

The estimate is 329,000, so, ever since I gave detailed recommendations to the previous Home Secretary, and the one before that, and the one before that, the numbers have gone up. Yet, the numbers in my constituency have gone down, as they have for overdoses, deaths, hospital admissions from overdoses, and burglaries. When will the Minister’s Department look at those recommendations and see why the system that is used in my constituency, and in Australia, Sweden and many other countries, is working and dealing with drug addiction, unlike the Government’s own policy?

I am delighted to talk at any time with my hon. Friend about what works in his constituency, but he knows that we can report success in a number of areas. For example, this summer the millionth person is likely to go through the drug intervention programme, and overall drug use is down. We are not complacent in any way, but I do believe that we are making progress.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) raises a very important point. Does the Minister agree that how successful his Department and the Prison Service are at dealing with drugs in prison matters very much, first, because of the difficulties in prison and, secondly, because of the difficulties when people leave prison? Is he satisfied that the Prison Service is appropriating enough funds for the treatment of drug addicts and to deal with the problem?

Funding has gone up significantly to achieve the results that the hon. Gentleman looks for in prisons. Of course, we want action to rid people of their drug habits and to end the link with acquisitive crime before they enter prison, but he is absolutely right: we need a seamless system. This means that when someone is in prison they receive the treatment that they need, that it continues when they leave and that, hopefully, they can break the habit and return to a normal life.

Has my hon. Friend had an opportunity to assess Portugal’s great success over the past eight years in reducing drug misuse? Will he transfer some of that best practice to the UK?

I saw the report from Portugal and I was left with the impression that it is too early to say what the effect of its change in policy has been, and we have to be careful in the message we send out about the harm that drugs do. We look at what happens in a number of countries around the world to make sure that we can learn lessons.

Is it not the case that many who resort to illegal drug use end up in prison because they commit crime to feed their addictions? The best and most cost-effective way to deal with the problem is to ensure that the treatment that such people need is given before they have to resort to crime. The fact is that not enough places are available. Would not ensuring that more places were made available now be a cost-effective and smart move by the Government?

It is expensive, but for every £1 invested we save £9.50 across the life of a drug user. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need early intervention, and we also need to make sure that there are resources for treatment. We are seeking to achieve, and are providing, those things.