Drugs war ‘a losing battle’
By BBC News – Thursday, September 16, 1999
Copyright: BBC News
One of Scotland’s most senior police officers has said that the war against drugs cannot be won under the current system.
Lothian and Borders Deputy Chief Constable Tom Wood told a conference in Edinburgh that the only way to tackle drugs barons was to reduce demand for drugs.
He also said “too many agencies all feel they must be seen to do something but pull in different directions”.
Mr Wood told delegates that too many agencies were involved in the fight against drugs. They overlapped, competed and demanded a share of scarce resources.
He said the situation was chaotic and needed a reduction in numbers whilst retaining the commitment.
In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Wood criticised the “authorities” for being “ambivalent about dealing with alcohol”.
He said the authorities were granting too many licenses to sell alcohol and that licensing boards were being influenced by market forces.
He accused elected representatives of operating “a hands-off approach leaving us at the mercy of big business and vested interests”.
He described drugs as “the only significant factor to impact on crime since the industrial revolution” and said that it has “got us on the run”.
“No ambivalence here, no lack of action, quite the reverse for although drugs and alcohol are intertwined and take an almost equal toll, a lack of understanding and panic has ensured our attitude is entirely different,” he said.
“We have made drugs, essentially a social phenomenon, into a war. No messing, no tolerance and amongst most, very little knowledge.”
Mr Wood was forthright in his praise for the successes Scottish police forces have had in seizing large quantities of drugs, particularly heroin, and in the way they had pitted themselves against “very sophisticated criminals”.
But he said that did not mean the war against drugs was being won.
“If it is a war we’re not winning it and I doubt we’ve won a battle and I don’t believe we ever can.”
He said it would not be won until demand was reduced. This could only be delivered by education, although he stressed that did not mean the police would ease up on dealers.
“If the drug phenomenon is a war then the only people capable of really winning it are parents and school teachers and primary school teachers at that, yet we have obviously failed to stress the role that teachers must play.”
Mr Wood added: “I believe that every primary school child should receive the best and fullest drugs education. I believe it is a life skill as important as being taught to cross the road.”