Prime minister Boris Johnson has announced a ten-year strategy in England and Wales to crack down on county lines gangs and drug abusers who turn to crime.
The £300 million plan unveiled this week includes major investment into drug treatment, with the government aiming to provide rehabilitation services for 300,000 drug users who commit crimes such as shop theft, burglaries and robberies to fund their addictions.
The PM said: “Overwhelmingly, the problem is caused by 300,000 people whose lives are simply chaotic, who are torn apart by their own addiction.
“You've got to help them; you've got to do treatment. But you've also got to come down hard on the county lines gangs.”
The prime minister said that he wanted to break the cycle of drug users reoffending, leading to the authorities prosecuting the same individuals repeatedly.
He added that the new drugs strategy would “come down tougher” on lifestyle drug abusers and would aim to crack down on as many as 2,000 county lines gangs distributing narcotics in more rural areas.
Harsher disciplinary measures such as confiscating driving licences and passports, and imposing curfews and travel bans will also be implemented to deter wrongdoers.
County lines gangs, who are known to recruit children and vulnerable people to help distribute or conceal narcotic substances, have been the target of numerous police operations already, with 1,500 county lines closed to date and over 7,400 related arrests having taken place.
The publishing of the strategy also comes as drug deaths hit a record high, with 4,561 people reported to have died of drug-related causes in 2020. Furthermore, the Home Office estimates that drug crime in England alone costs almost £20 billion per year, including costs incurred by drug-related burglaries, robberies and murders.
The plan includes a number of other measures including drug testing those who have been arrested for suspected drug offences. Police officers will also be encouraged to redirect users toward drug treatment and other interventions.
Meanwhile, authorities will also have the power to test individuals carrying out community service for drug-related offences, with those who test positive to face potential prison sentences.
Under the plans, phones seized from drug dealers may also be used to message people buying drugs to discourage drug use and direct them toward support. A pilot scheme is also in the pipeline to carry out a behaviour change exercise in universities to help dissuade people from using drugs earlier.
Parliament has also been in the headlines concerning drug use recently, after the Sunday Times reported that traces of drugs were found in the House of Commons toilets, prompting speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to raise the matter with the police.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse stated that he would be surprised if there were no drug users among those working in Parliament, because drug use was so commonplace.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has hit out at the government for having reduced police numbers and cut funding for drug treatment during austerity, blaming such measures for the hike in drug use and drug-related fatalities.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons