The government’s current drug strategy focuses on tackling drug abuse first and foremost as a means of reducing crime. Consequently, treatment for drug addiction is currently most easily accessed through the criminal justice system. This means that there are a significant numbers of problematic drug users who are not accessing treatment at all, either because they do not come into contact with the criminal justice system or because they are not committing any crimes.

Strategies also focus on disrupting the supply of illegal drugs through intelligence led policing, and the involvement of a variety of bodies, including HM Customs and Excise, the Central Drugs and Illegal Immigration Unit, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). However, given the great quantities of drugs that are produced and transported internationally, it is often argued that enforcement efforts are unlikely to affect their availability or cost on the street.

A different school of thought considers problematic drug use primarily a social and medical problem. It seeks to divert drug users away from being criminalised and into treatment and counselling. Research has shown that treatment can lead to significant reductions in both drug use and crime.

Proponents of this ‘diversionary’ approach would also argue that imprisoning drug users is not an effective way of dealing with addiction, as drugs are widely available in prison. A recent Home Office Study found that four out of ten prisoners admit to having used drugs at least once whilst in prison.