Making drugs illegal hasn’t stopped people taking them - and suffering as a result.
There were 709 deaths related to drug use in the West Midlands between 2014 and 2016.
It includes 173 deaths in Birmingham alone. And that’s the highest number on record.
If you go back ten years, to 2004-6, the number of deaths in Birmingham was significantly less at 103.
Drug use causes other forms of suffering too.
NHS figures show there were 7,913 hospital admissions in the West Midlands in just one year for people diagnosed as having a mental health problem or behavioural disorder related to drug use.
And we know that people are still taking drugs. A Home Office survey found 7.8% of people in the West Midlands, one in 13 people, said they had taken an illegal drug at least once over the past year.
Drug use is actually falling. The numbers taking drugs are lower than they used to be.
But the problem hasn’t gone away.
Perhaps this is why there is increasing support for a new approach to drug abuse.
Politicians and charities are growing increasingly vocal in calling for drug users to be treated as people with a health condition rather than criminals.
After all, the Home Office itself has admitted that the current approach to stamping out drugs isn’t working.
An official audit of the Government’s anti-drugs strategy said: “It appears that drugs are still widely available to those who want them.”
And that’s despite spending an estimated £1.6 billion on enforcement in just one year.
In fact, the paper suggested that the war on drugs may simply make things worse. It probably led to prices increasing, which might reduce drug use, but dealers quickly adapted and kept prices steady at street level by offering impure products, the paper said.
Treating drug use as a crime might actually increase violence in our society, it warned.
Here are some of the conclusions, quoted at length: “The available evidence suggests that proportionate enforcement of the illegality of drugs raises prices, with drug misuse being inversely related to price.
“Illicit drug markets are resilient and can quickly adapt to even significant drug and asset seizures. Even though enforcement may cause wholesale prices to vary, street‑level prices are generally maintained through variations in purity.
“There is evidence that some enforcement activities can contribute to the disruption of drug markets at all levels, thus reducing crime and improving health outcomes, but the effects tend to be short‑lived. Activity solely to remove drugs from the market, for example, drug seizures, has little impact on availability.
“However, there are potential unintended consequences of enforcement activity such as violence related to drug markets and the negative impact of involvement with the criminal justice system.
“By diverting drug using offenders into treatment through the criminal justice system the benefits of treatment, including reductions in crime and improvements in health can be realised.”
The paper, published in July 2017, is called An evaluation of the Government’s Drug Strategy 2010, as it examines the success or otherwise of a drugs strategy launched seven years ago.
And the Government seems quietly to have come round to the view that treating drug users is better than punishing them.
The Home Office published a new drugs strategy in July. And this one says: “There is strong evidence to link drug treatment to reductions in offending and supporting people to address their dependence is therefore critical to tackling the risk of reoffending.
“Alongside punitive sanctions, the criminal justice system should consider use of health-based, rehabilitative interventions to address the drivers behind the crime and help prevent further substance misuse and offending.”
Such an approach might be welcomed by politicians and police chiefs pushing for change.
Ron Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner in Durham, and a cop for 30 years, is one of them.
He said: “The proposal I would support at the moment is taking the user out of the criminal justice system. So possession of a drug for personal use would not then constitute a criminal offence. We need to get people into treatment.”
However, the latest strategy has been criticised for not going far enough by some of those calling for change.
They include Tory MP Crispin Blunt, who told the House of Commons: “Although I welcome the emphasis that the Government strategy puts on improving treatment and recovery for users, it also rehearses the same failed arguments for prohibition and criminalisation that have patently failed.”