Illegal drug use – Prevention, Education and why we must try to Fix the Future
A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with the family of a young boy from Bournemouth who tragically died after taking MDMA. We talked about his life and how he got involved in illegal drugs when he was just 11 years old, how older boys had ‘groomed’ him into selling cannabis and how they had tried to get him to sell ecstasy.
This week with that conversation fresh in my mind, I would like to take this opportunity to talk a bit about my stance on children and young people and illegal drug use and my plans to try and Fix the Future.
Firstly, I would like to give a little more information on my background and why I am so very concerned about this area of policing.
Prior to becoming Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset and Co-Chair of the APCC Addiction and Substance Misuse Portfolio, I fulfilled two roles of relevance - as Central Nervous System Therapy Director on the UK Management Board of Parke-Davis and as the owner and managing director of STAC Consultancy; which facilitated the medical education of over 17,500 secondary care physicians and specialist nurse practitioners in difficult to treat areas such as chronic pain, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis amongst others and advised other pharmaceutic companies on pain and epilepsy drug marketing.
My work centred around legal drug usage, but also included assessing cannabinoids and opiates as competitors or as possible prescription drugs. I also have some close experience of drug addiction and the issues around it – so I believe that I have both a good understanding of the issue and perhaps the ability to put forward a cohesive argument for discussion on drugs, addiction, and substance misuse.
Many of you would have read about what I have had to say about the use of illegal drugs in society and my thoughts on the re-classification of cannabis and for the record, I would like to just clarify what I have said and why, as it could be deliberately or accidentally misinterpreted.
Firstly, what I have said is that we need more work to be done on education, prevention, and treatment around illegal drug and substance misuse – especially for what I term as ‘illegal gateway drugs’.
I feel strongly that there is not enough focus, on illegal gateway drugs. The common term that is used is ‘recreational drugs’ which I believe is misleading and detrimental. It implies health and wide-open spaces. In reality cocaine, cannabis containing THC, ketamine and MDMA are dangerous addictive substances that can harm or kill those taking them – that’s definitely not ‘recreational’ to my mind and we need both society, but particularly for government, to not give any hint of permission or condonement of their use.
The key to changing this perception of what ‘illegal gateway drugs’ are and can do, is not a criminal justice solution, but a deepening of the understanding what education will work and to start raising boundaries whether moral or practical at an early age.
The governments ‘From Harm to Hope’ strategy, discusses trying to address drug use at university, but the problem needs addressing far earlier in my opinion, especially when you hear that drug gangs use the term ‘Tiny’ to describe a very young member of the gang, and that gang member can be as young as seven years old. Also, I have been made aware of children as young as eight here in Dorset, acting out drug behaviours as play in the school playground – surely, I have a duty as your representative in policing, not only to raise awareness of these behaviours, but to do my best to do something about them?
I truly believe that what is needed is a whole system and age view of this issue and the passionate commitment of the Department of Education as a partner to address this. Changing the way, we educate young people about illegal drugs is key if we are to make a difference for future generations and that is why I have been lobbying government on these issues and presenting papers to the Home Affairs Select Committee on illegal drug use and its effects on society and the economy.
While I try my best to tackle these issues nationally, it is locally here in Dorset that matters most to me. So to help our young people to gain the knowledge and capability to make positive life choices - I have launched the Fix the Future Fund.
The Fix the Future Fund is aimed at supporting projects and initiatives which contribute to or benefit young people across Dorset. The projects/initiatives should add value to the community by facilitating youth development and providing young people with opportunities.
Don’t get me wrong, there are thousands of fantastic young people in our community doing brilliant things, but not all young people get the chance to stay away from bad influences, not all young people have a safe place to be or a positive role model to help them when they need it most and that’s why I set up the fund.
I want to see applications for funding coming in for diversionary activities for young people on the periphery of crime or who have committed offences. I want to see mentoring schemes and youth clubs and community groups bid for money. I want to see youth theatre groups and charities that work with young people either in or outside of education, to use their skills and give our young people more information and more knowledge about really important issues such as drugs and alcohol.
For me, Fix the Future is not only a commitment to our young people, it is a commitment to parents and grandparents across the county that says, our children, our grandchildren and their future is incredibly important and I for one, cannot wait to see what the funding can do for the youth and communities of Dorset.
Police and Crime Commissioner
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