The links between illegal drug use and crime, particularly acquisitive, have long been recognised as problematic. Recent statistics published in The Independent suggest that as few as ten percent of addicts commit 75 percent of all acquisitive crime. In spite of these consistently dispiriting figures, the familiar approach is one of punishment, with some attempt at rehabilitation. Moreover, all of these programmes have at their foundations an aim to ensure their clients maintain complete desistance from drug use.
However, recent trials—first at the Maudsley Hospital in London, but later extended to Darlington and Brighton—suggest that the way to break the link between drugs and crime should be tackled in an entirely different way. The creation of so-called NHS “shooting galleries”, where long-term addicts can get a regular, monitored fix of heroin, would appear to be having success, not only in cutting crime, but also in reducing drug use. This week the UK National Treatment Agency for Substance Abuse is expected to call for a network of these clinics to be created across the country.
However, illegal drug (ab)use is often seen very emotively, and while this initiative may make good economic and indeed, medical sense, there will be many critics. First, the programme is not cheap (although cheaper than prison), second, the already over stretched budgets of the NHS, and finally, the moral dimension, as to whether those criminalised should be given free drugs, regardless of benefit to society. No doubt this debate will continue for some considerable time.