The war on drugs has become an increasing problem in England and Wales, but just how bad is the issue?

The number of drug poisoning deaths in England and Wales has more than doubled in the past decade, with over 4,000 people losing their lives in 2020 according to the Office for National Statistics.

Legalised drug market

Several drug charities and support groups have been calling for a legalised drug market in recent years in order to encourage safe recreational use.

Drugs and Me co-founder Ivan Ezquerra Romano believes the current unregulated recreational drug markets “harm and kill people” due to the obscurity of current substances.

He said: “The legal status of drugs impacts how safely people can take them.

“Unregulated markets harm and kill people because substances are often unlabelled and untested.

“Having a more regulated market would solve many of the problems we have at the moment.”

Ivan believes more awareness is needed around this issue, with the stigma around drug use making it difficult to manage.

“The problem is that given the stigma and legality of most psychoactive drugs, the data around drug use is unreliable and biased towards problematic use.

“Most drug use is non-problematic, but we know more about problematic than about non-problematic.

“The stigma and legality around drugs hinder our work, for instance, social media and search engines block our content or penalise it, so it’s harder for us to reach people to raise awareness and funding.”

Police interference

London Metropolitan police officer Alex Doyle is faced with tackling the issue of drugs on a day-to-day basis.

The 26-year-old suggested that England and Wales’ drug issue is hard to regulate as prisons would be filled to maximum capacity if all drug users were arrested.

He said: “History shows that drugs are a huge part of society and always will be.

“A lot more education within schools and wider society is needed to show the consequences of taking drugs – how it affects the individual and those around them.

London Metropolitan police officer Alex Doyle.

“The first line of education and support is vital, which is the route the police are currently taking.”

According to Public Health England, around one in five adults aged 16-24 have taken drugs in the past year.

Alex said: “Low-level drug dealers are commonly considered victims as it is popular practice for those higher in the ranks to find vulnerable teenagers to do the work for them.

“Teenagers are easily influenced, forced, blackmailed, or given no other option but to sell for their superior peers.

“Especially for teenagers living in poverty – sometimes it’s the only option to survive.

“Those at the top of the chain are profiting from the trade and are negatively influencing communities.

“We do what we can do to investigate and trial those caught, but resources are tremendously small with government cuts year on year.”

Over the last ten years, drug poisoning deaths have had a dramatic increase, escalating from 2597 deaths in 2012 to 4561 in 2020.

Root of the drugs issue

AstraZeneca laboratory technician Joe Earl emphasised that the war on drugs is a “multifaceted problem” and believes that the root of the issue stems from more deprived areas.

AstraZeneca laboratory technician Joe Earl.

He said: “A lot of the time, those taking drugs have poor upbringings or might not have as much money and turn to drugs whilst living in poverty.

“Sanctioning and using a large amount of the taxpayer’s money on this ‘drug war’ isn’t the most effective strategy.

“It’s a multifaceted problem – poverty, poor upbringings, trying it for the first time, turning to drugs due to abuse or even to escape their current situation – there are a few different layers to it.”

Joe also shares the belief that more support needs to be put in place to better educate these individuals, as opposed to sanctioning them.

“We should be putting the taxpayer’s money it into other things, like understanding why people are taking drugs and helping out people in poverty with new housing and education.

“People need educating on the effects of some of the most dangerous drugs, and with the help of charities and government policy, people’s lives can be kept clear of the problem.”