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Welfare benefits threat for drug misusers

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 20 August 2010

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The Home Office is considering stopping the welfare benefits for people who refuse treatment for their drug or alcohol dependency.

Quicker action could also be taken to implement temporary bans on ‘legal highs’ from new drugs that are still being evaluated.

The Home Office today published a consultation paper on its drug strategy (due to be published in December) for England, Scotland and Wales, in which it considers the possibility of “some form of financial benefit sanction” for people refusing treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.

Those people, however, would receive help and support to overcome their dependency and get back to work.

The consultation document also proposes that there should be quicker action to tackle new ‘legal highs’ through temporary bans of new drugs.

These 12-month bans would be put in place following initial consideration by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

The ACMD would then conduct a comprehensive review of the harms of the substance and advise whether it should be permanently banned.
 
‘Legal highs’, as the Home Office calls them, including naphyrone, mephedrone, GBL and synthetic cannabinoids have already been banned, but the new system of temporary bans would allow a faster response.
 
The consultation document also proposes the introduction of new legislation that will allow police to confiscate suspected ‘legal high’ substances and the UK Border Agency to seize shipments entering the country.

The penalty for supply will be a maximum of 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine. Possession of a temporarily banned substance for personal use would not be a criminal offence to prevent the unnecessary criminalisation of young people.
 
Minister for crime prevention James Brokenshire said: “The drugs market is changing and we need to adapt current laws to allow us to act more quickly.

“The temporary ban allows us to act straight away to stop new substances gaining a foothold in the market and help us tackle unscrupulous drug dealers trying to get round the law by peddling dangerous chemicals to young people.”

Subject to parliamentary approval the system of temporary bans will be introduced by the end of 2011.

Martin Barnes, chief executive of charity DrugScope, said: “We welcome the open-ended and wide ranging nature of the questions contained in the consultation paper published today.

“We hope this signals a readiness on the part of the government to be open and receptive to the views of the substance misuse sector.”

The concept of stopping benefits did, however, cause him some concern, as he said on BBC’s Today radio programme: “We seriously question both the fairness and the effectiveness of actually using the stick of compulsion - benefit sanctions - to link a requirement to undergo medical treatment with a condition of receipt of benefit.”

Mr Barnes said there was “absolutely no evidence” that would work for a “vulnerable and often marginalised group”.

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