David Sidwick's blog - tackling drug use
Nobody can fail to be shaken by the death of a 13-year-old child.
This is the awful situation affecting the family of Mehmet Altun from Bournemouth, whose young life came to an abrupt end following a suspected drug overdose.
I want to pay tribute to the incredible bravery of his family, who are warning others against the use of drugs and who organised a peaceful protest to highlight the issue.
I’m sure every parent and every grandparent who read about the incident can begin to imagine some of the pain they are going through, and the numbers who attended last weekend’s event shows this is an issue that has resonated with people from across society.
This was one news story that certainly had an impact on me.
It’s important to point out that an investigation is currently underway into the circumstances surrounding Mehmet’s death and we must of course respect that. For that reason, I won’t talk about any specific details of the case, and I would expect anyone else to do the same.
However, when I think about those who have lost loved ones or who have themselves been snatched away long before their time because of drugs, it hardens my resolve to try and take this poison off our streets.
When I was elected as Police and Crime Commissioner, I said one of my priorities was to deal with fighting violent crime and high harm – and that of course includes drugs, particularly the county lines gangs who bring heroin, crack cocaine and other substances from the big cities into our small towns and villages.
This is a horrific trade which serves up nothing but misery – to those who become addicted to the drugs themselves, to those young people coerced into working as mules and dealers by older criminals further up the ladder, and to vulnerable individuals who are ‘cuckooed’ and have their homes taken over.
The proceeds from the drugs help fund other illicit activities including prostitution, modern slavery, illicit gambling and economic crime, while the crime and anti-social behaviour associated with drug dealing has a terrible effect on the neighbourhoods where it takes place.
Last week saw arrests made and suspected items seized as part of a joint operation between Dorset Police and British Transport Police in which large numbers of plain clothed and uniformed officers flooded Weymouth Train Station with the aiming of disrupting the activities of gangs who use the rail network as their supply line into the town.
The operation was welcomed by myself and local MPs and I hope it sent out a clear message that criminals should think twice before bringing their toxic wares into our county.
Tackling drug issues
But I know it will take a lot more than that to deal with this problem.
We must take a tough approach to enforcement, but we also need to deal with a number of other issues.
This includes effectively rehabilitating former addicts so they are able to get out of crime and build meaningful lives, providing more impactful education to encourage young people to stay away from drugs, and building resilience in our communities to ensure that people have the confidence to deter others from wandering onto this path.
Drug use is a huge societal problem and policing – while important – is only part of the answer. We need to work nationally, regionally and locally to address the health issues related to drug taking and ensure there’s investment in evidence-based treatment services and support for those recovering.
I have recently taken up the role of national lead for alcohol and substance abuse for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, ensuing that Dorset has a voice right at the heart of the conversation on how best to address this issue. Along with my co-lead, Durham PCC Joy Allen, I’m going to look at making certain education is impactful, so fewer people become addicted, as well as effective rehabilitation so services across the country know more about what works and what doesn’t.
And I’ve also begun working with my PCC colleagues across the South West. We are all now treating drugs as an urgent priority and will be working together to develop further strategies to tackle this issue across the region.
Just the start
This is just the start and I know there is a huge way to go. But every story I hear about the harm caused to families by drug use makes me more determined than ever to find ways of dealing with the problem.
We need to all take responsibility for driving this stuff off our streets.
If children are exposed to material glamourising drugs and their sleazy suppliers, then we need to start making the case against them earlier. We need to speak directly to teenagers about the risk, about cannabis psychosis, about heroin and cocaine deaths. With supposedly ‘harmless’ recreational drugs, we also need to talk about the risk of death, as happened to my friend’s daughter from MDMA, or about kids who are now living without bladders due to taking ketamine.
Let’s all make sure that we as a community condemn both the use and supply of illegal drugs, drive for effective rehabilitation of those already addicted and enforce rigorously against those who supply and deal on our streets so we can build a safer Dorset.
I want no more kids dying to put money in the wallets of criminals.