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Larger welfare state curbs hard drug use, study finds

By John Byrne
Thursday, November 4, 2010 8:17 EDT
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Increasing the size of the welfare state rather than incarcerating drug addicts may reduce the use of illicit drugs overall, research released today shows.

“The work, published today, shows countries that provide a generous social security system have low levels of injecting drug use, irrespective of how punitive the drugs policy is,” writes Randeep Ramesh, Social Affairs Editor for The Guardian. “Charities have used the study to argue that the government’s welfare cuts will see a rise in drug addicts.”

The research was conducted by, Alex Stevens, a professor in criminal justice at the University of Kent. He told the Guardian that countries with higher numbers of drug offenders in prison tend to have less of a welfare state and more “serious drug problems.”

Other countries with bigger social nets, he said, see fewer addicts among hard drugs. “Countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, which offer generous benefits, have dramatically curbed the spread of hard drugs such as heroin,” the paper noted.

Stevens’ book, Drugs, Crime and Public Health, posits that social inclusion — rather that exclusion through jail — helps ameliorate the larger problem of drug use within a society.

“There are two reasons, he said, why welfare is so important: regular benefits keep people out of a criminal underclass and the welfare state allows addicts to kick the habit by bringing stability to their lives,” Ramesh writes.

“Making sure users have a roof over their heads means they can be enrolled in programmes to get them off drugs,” Stevens said.

Of his book, Drugs, Crime and Public Health, Amazon writes that it “provides an accessible but critical discussion of recent policy on illicit drugs. Using a comparative approach – centred on the UK, but with insights and complementary data gathered from the USA and other countries – it discusses theoretical perspectives and provides new empirical evidence which challenges prevalent ways of thinking about illicit drugs. It argues that problematic drug use can only be understood in the social context in which it takes place, a context which it shares with other problems of crime and public health. The book demonstrates the social and spatial overlap of these problems, examining the focus of contemporary drug policy on crime reduction. This focus, contends Alex Stevens, has made it less, rather than more, likely that long-term solutions will be produced for drugs, crime and health inequalities. Stevens concludes, through examining competing visions for the future of drug policy, with an argument for social solutions to these social problems.”

The research received mixed opinions, Ramesh wrote:

Neil McKechnie, professor of drug misuse research at Glasgow University, said this was a “highly questionable analysis”.

He said: “It is a rather old Labour way of thinking that poverty or deprivation is the explanation for drug use. The reality is that many people have difficult lives but they are not all taking drugs. Policy is important and I think that we have not tried abstinence, really enforced it.”

But charities welcomed the research. Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, said: “At a time of spending cuts and social reform, it is timely evidence of the importance of the benefits system in both mitigating and preventing social and health problems, thereby reducing longer-term costs to society.”

 
 
 
 
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