Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, has entered the debate about the pros and cons of legalising drugs in the UK this week, bringing the issue into the media spotlight.
Prince William interviewed recovering addicts on how they think the law on drugs should or shouldn’t be changed and on how current legislation effects those in the addicted community. The Duke recognised the recovering community as the true experts on the issue, calling them “the key people” needed to give informed feedback regarding the issues that face the addicted population. The Duke stated that there is a “growing pressure” to change the regulation of drug use in the UK, as the terribly ineffective, so-called war on drugs, fails to curb drug use and the consequences for society and individuals remain dire.
Home Office to Continue War on Drugs
A Home Office spokesman said: “This Government has no plans to decriminalise drug misuse. There is a substantial body of scientific and medical evidence to show that controlled drugs are harmful and can damage people’s mental and physical health, and our wider communities.
“In July we released a comprehensive new drugs strategy, setting out a balanced approach which brings together police, health, community and global partners to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around.”
Addiction and Isolation
The criminalisation of drug use leads to myriad associated problems, a 2016 report from the Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health suggested that they agreed that the “war on drugs” had failed. It argued that the criminalising of drugs lead to greater long-term harm as addicts are cut off from education and employment. The exclusion of addicts from society, community, family and a sense of purpose is a much-cited problem. If the opposite of addiction is connection as claimed by Johann Hari’s famous Ted Talk, then isolating the addict from the community, work and family can serve no useful function.
Prince William Talks to recovering Addicts
Prince William spoke to recovering addicts in the Spitalfields Crypt Trust (SCT), which for more than 50 years has provided services for alcohol and drug addicts;
“Can I ask you a very massive question – it’s a big one, there’s obviously a lot of pressure growing in areas about legalising drugs and things like that. What are your individual opinions on that? I know it’s a big question, but you seem like the key people to actually get a very good idea as to, you know, what are the big dangers there – what are the feelings”?
Heather Blackburn, 49, said she thought the legalisation of drugs was “a good idea”, with the money used to prosecute users better spent on help for those who turned to illegal substances after “massive trauma”.
The Duke asked, “So there needs to be more of a social element to it…prison doesn’t tackle the root cause of why someone is taking drugs”?
Ms Blackburn replied: “No, it just punishes what you’ve done, not the reasons why.”
Ms Blackburn’s views were mirrored by Grace Gunn, 19, a recovering alcoholic and trainee midwife, who told Prince William she is “a true believer people who end up in these places, we’re damaged people. Whether that’s through trauma or our relationship with parents or family or carer, and I think… there has to be money in mental health therapy.”
As he left, Prince William again acknowledged the often untapped expertise of the addicts themselves: “You guys have seen it and it’s affected your lives in ways I can only imagine, so it’s very interesting to hear that from you…. I appreciate your honesty.”
Addiction and Homelessness
A Royal aide said afterwards: “He has long taken a keen interest in the issue of homelessness and is not immune to the fact that addiction can play a big part in this. “If there is a social issue then he believes it is important not to talk about it in the abstract but ask questions of and listen to those who are affected.”
Winston Churchill has been quoted as saying that “You measure the degree of civilisation of a society by how it treats its weakest members.” But in 2016 more than 8,000 people slept rough in the capital at some point, a figure which has more than doubled in the last eight years. Homelessness all over the country has increased exponentially.
Housing is often awarded to those who are willing to engage with drug treatment/mental health services, in a sort of housing meritocracy, in which ability to comply with requirements will result in a stable home. Unfortunately, this leaves our most vulnerable those unable to comply because of the chaos of their addiction, for example being able to detox whilst being homeless is an almost impossible task, yet often the requirement for housing will be to be able to provide negative drug tests. This leaves our most vulnerable trapped in a downward spiral of homelessness, addiction and often criminality and mental health problems.
As front-line provisions in social care are cut a new way of helping the vulnerable members of our society must urgently be found. Leaving addicts out on the street, like human rubbish, ignoring their voices in policymaking cannot enable them to make better decisions or become more employable or better contributors or any of the other things that society deems a marker of a decent human being.
Transform, a think tank which campaigns for the legal regulation of drugs praised the Duke for his approach, and have been much quoted as saying: “Transform is delighted that Prince William has the courage to ask one of the most crucial questions of our time. Going where angels fear to tread, the prince is asking the hardest question in an area that has been tragically neglected by our most senior politicians.” The quote sounds poetic though it seems rather an unfortunate choice of idiom, as the entire line is For fools rush in where angels fear to tread was first written by Alexander Pope in his 1711 poem An Essay on Criticism. The phrase alludes to inexperienced or rash people attempting things that more experienced people avoid – not really what Transform were trying to communicate.