Rachel Horne talks about the extreme violence in our communities and its relationship to the UK drug trade.
Words: Rachel Horne
Photography: Warren Draper
On the 18th of January this year I attended a conference hosted by Aspire’s Recovery College. I was there to hear a talk by author Neil Woods after reading “Drug Wars”, a book he co-wrote with JS Rafaeli. For me, their work has been instrumental to my own research exploring the illegal trade of drugs in our communities and how it’s shaping life in Doncaster.
Almost every aspect of our lives is affected by the British drug trade and our consumption of drugs. We might not see it and join the dots but the the world of illegal drugs and the criminal underbelly it inhabits have transformed the fabric of British society into something unrecognisable.
Author Neil Woods knows the world of substance misuse and addiction better than most due to his work as an undercover police officer where he faked his way into the world of crack and heroin to observe it first hand. You’d think he would be anti-drugs and in full support of our current drugs laws. The staggering truth is, after 20 years working undercover catching dealers, befriending and living amongst other drug users, he believes that, at best, he has disrupted the UK drug trade for a mere 18 hours. What’s more, he believes he has contributed to making the whole problem much worse. He states: “when you catch someone for dealing, it creates an opportunity for someone else to step in. Police are merely taking out the competition for other dealers. There is no benefit at all from police involvement with drugs”.
Many members of the public might find this shocking to read, and believe that more policing and big expensive undercover operations will make our streets safer. According to Neil, policing has no effect on reducing drug taking or crime. He suggests: “it only leads to more violence as each generation of gangster get more and more extreme. Extreme violence is a learnt thing off the back of prohibition and the system we have created”.
So, when policing drugs makes no sense, when banning them only drives the numbers higher, what is the answer?
I’m joining a movement to lobby MPs for a drugs policy reform in the UK. I’m writing to my MP Rosie Winterton, to ask if she will meet others campaigning in parliament to address current drug laws. Through regulation, we can take the drug trade out of criminal hands and put doctors, pharmacists and licensed retailers in control. In the UK, drug-related deaths are at record levels, our prisons are in crisis, and drugs are getting stronger. Out of 2.8 million students in the UK, a recent study found around 80% take illegal drugs that are unregulated. Almost one in three drug overdose deaths in Europe occur in the UK, which we can all agree is unacceptable. Drugs aren’t going away and prohibition isn’t working. We can take action. Join my campaign in Doncaster but also support the work of Neil Woods and the other former law enforcement officers at Leap U.K. that are pioneering this movement for change.