The war on drugs has been labelled a global disaster by many influential experts, including Executive Director of the Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth. On an international scale, drugs in the modern age are purer, and fundamentally, cheaper than ever before, fuelling their increasing demand.

Britain’s Drug Use

According to the Office for National Statistics, every constituent nation of in the UK has seen a rise in the number of drug-related deaths year-on-year since 2012. Most alarmingly, Scotland recorded its highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe just last year. Despite the rising mortality rate however, analysis by the BBC in May 2018 revealed that government spending on drugs and alcohol services fell by £161m in the last four years alone. It can certainly be concluded that Britain is struggling to cope with the large-scale use of drugs within its border. However, in order to answer the question of whether we are have lost the war on drugs, we must look at the global picture.

A Grass Roots Problem

The historical infamy of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel, has long left Columbia irrevocably attributed to cocaine production. Make no mistake, however, this is no thing of the past. Columbia’s cocaine production reached an all-time high last year, with 209,000 hectares of land now dedicated to its cultivation. After the 2016 peace plan between the Columbian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), an innovative plan was launched to convert 100,000 hectors of coca plantations a year, with cash crops such as coffee. With this target far from being reached, and time running out, the mission to combat cocaine production at grass-roots level, is unlikely to be successful in the next twenty years.

What’s more, while the Columbian Government is experimenting with modern drone technologies to identify Coca plantations, the traffickers are consistently exploiting new routes into the European market. Despite the UK being the 3rd largest consumer of cocaine in the world, Spain has become one of the most targeted gateways into the continent.

The port of Algeciras has, in particular become heavily linked with drug trafficking. Thousands of kilograms of cocaine have been known to have been stuffed in frozen chickens and bananas and ferried through this port. Algeciras serves as a vivid reminder of a cartel’s influence still to this day; ten dockers employed at the port of Algeciras, were arrested earlier this month, on suspicion of collusion and corruption. With the dealers finding forever more innovative means of trafficking and the demand increasing year on year, could this be time to concede defeat?

Time to Change?

The UK Government spent an estimated £1.6bn on its anti-drugs policy in the 2014-2015. Influential bodies, such as the British Medical Journal, have also recognised that “Prohibition and stigma encourage less safe drug consumption and push people away from health services.”

It is with this in mind that some countries have adopted more liberal drugs policies, including the Netherlands where ‘soft drugs’ have been legalised. Portugal famously adopted a decriminalisation of personal use and possession of illicit drugs, and instead deployed a widespread public health campaign, tackling addiction. It made the possession or purchase of a small quantity of an illegal substance an administrative, rather than criminal offence.

While the UK battles an ever increasing number of drug related deaths, Portugal may indeed be winning the war on drugs. Post decriminalisation, Portugal has seen a 75% decrease in heroin deaths and its drug death rate is the lowest in Western Europe. This equates to just one tenth of Britain’s.

It is with this in mind, that the time has come to follow suit. Year upon year we hear of teenagers dying from drugs overdoses. Mainstream media reported, as recently July, the deaths of two teenagers at Mutiny Festival in Portsmouth. We must surely ask how much longer we can rigidly follow a policy which so catastrophically fails year upon year.

Portugal’s model should serve as a poignant reminder that governments must do all in their power to protect their citizens. A shift away from hard-line drugs policies, to one which focusses on combatting addiction, could see drug-related deaths fall in an identical way to Portugal’s.


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