US Marines in a poppy field in Afghanistan (Picture: Pucket88 on Wikicommons)

 
Is a new drug epidemic about to sweep Britain? Tory ministers and some leading experts seem to think so. Last week the government rushed to reclassify 15 “synthetic opioids” as Class A drugs.
 
Manufactured in laboratories and relatively cheap to make, synthetic opioids can range from ten to many hundred times more potent than morphine. 
 
Doctors generally use them to treat only the most severe pain—and under very strict conditions. 
 
Manufactured in laboratories and relatively cheap to make, synthetic opioids can range from ten to many hundred times more potent than morphine. 
 
Anyone now caught in illegal possession of the 15 drugs listed could face up to seven years in jail.
 
That’s despite almost all health professionals agreeing that prison is the last place you should put someone battling drug addiction. 
 
Home secretary James Cleverly says his move is a “preventative” measure. What appears to have rushed him are reports of a massive reduction in the supply of heroin.
 
Afghanistan used to produce more than 80 percent of the world’s opium. And heroin made from it captured up to 90 percent of the European market.
 
But since the Taliban ousted its Western occupiers, opium production in Afghanistan has been slashed. 
 
According to BBC analysis annual cultivation could be down 80 percent on last year.  That cut in supply is expected to cause a sharp rise in the cost of heroin and limit its availability. 
 
Expert advisors to the British government fear this could create a huge demand for synthetic opioids that hasn’t previously existed in Europe.
 
The opioid crisis began in the 1990s with the US’s failed healthcare system. Drug firms incentivised doctors to hand out opioids to anyone suffering physical pain and health insurance firms backed them because pills were cheaper than physiotherapy. 
 
Companies pushing potentially lethal drugs were even free to advertise their “miraculous” benefits on television. 
 
Yet despite the scale of the crisis, and the way health care is implicated, the US state has little or no appetite for even basic measures. 
 
Instead, the Joe Biden administration has effectively revived the failed Republican strategy of a “War on Drugs”.
 
This targets the Mexico-based gangs that both produce and distribute synthetic opioids, while at the same time criminalising those that use them.
 
The result? A wave of addiction has turned into an inferno of death, disease and personal destruction. 
 
The state has used all its agencies to try to cut off the supply of drugs and stop people from using them. But it has failed.
 
Instead, it has made the crisis worse by pushing dependent drug users into ever riskier behaviour. 
 
That is likely to lead to more disease and more overdoses. It’s a tragedy that the British government now looks set to follow suit, when instead we need a completely different approach. 
 
The US opioid crisis vindicates the socialist call for abolishing all drug laws, because only that can begin to break the vicious cycle. 
 
Drug usage must be dealt with as health issue rather than a criminal one which requires much greater funding for initiatives to address addiction problems.
 
Portugal decriminalised personal drug possession in 2001. Since then drug-related deaths in the state have remained below the European average. 
 
Also the proportion of prisoners sentenced for drugs has fallen from 40 to 15 percent. Mexico, Germany and Italy decriminalised drug possession too. 
 
Drug policy is laced through with myths and bigotry. Alcohol, which harms many people’s health, fills aisles at every supermarket. 
 
We want an end to the stigma that the law attaches to people dependent on drugs because only then can there be effective treatment.
 
Peoples’ battles with addiction should have no interference from the cops. And we want a society where treating people’s physical and mental pain and distress is one of our greatest priorities. 
 
 
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