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More money needed to tackle Jersey's drug problem - with twice as many problem users as UK

News | Published:

  • First drug review for 14 years finds that Jersey has twice as many 'problem users' as the UK
  • The study concludes that Jersey needs to give more money to Customs and police to tackle problems
  • Recommendations also include providing clean needles for users and keeping laws up to date
  • Do Jersey's strict penalties for drug smugglers work as a deterrent? Take our poll below

THE States police and Customs need more money to tackle drugs offences, according to a report which has found Jersey has almost twice as many problem users for the size of the population than the UK.

In the first review of its kind for 14 years, figures reveal that 1.4 per cent of 15 to 64 year-olds are problem drug takers – those who use substances on a daily basis, may be addicted or turn to crime to fund their habit – compared to 0.8 per cent in the UK.

And according to the study, which was commissioned by the States and carried out by the UK's Centre for Drug Misuse Research, children as young as 12 have taken so-called 'legal highs'.

The 61-page report suggests increasing the budgets for the States police and Customs – which were recently cut by two per cent – to ensure they can maintain the fight against drugs.

And it called on the police to place a heavier emphasis on drug enforcement as statistics show the number of drug seizures made by the police plummeted between 2006 and 2013.

Smugglers are attracted by the higher price of drugs in Jersey

The report also recommended strengthening education on drugs both in schools and wider areas as the rise of 'legal highs', also known as new psychoactive substances, threatened to pull new 'risk groups' into substance misuse.

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Other key recommendations include:

  • Improving the working relationship between the prison, Accident and Emergency, drug and alcohol treatment centres and residential rehabilitation centres.
  • Developing proactive legislation to enable whole categories of new psychoactive substances to be banned.
  • Offering more sterile injecting equipment to reduce the sharing of needles. There are 700 people in Jersey who are Hepatitis C positive, which is considered high.
  • Improving the sharing of information between doctors to prevent prescription-drug abusers ‘doctor shopping’ between GPs.

Several years ago the States police disbanded their dedicated Drug Squad and since 2006 the value of drugs seized by the force has fallen from around £1.6 million to £270,000 in 2013. However, the level of seizures will be significantly higher this year after the States police last week recovered £1.2 million of cannabis at Bouley Bay.

But despite the report's recommendations Detective Chief Inspector Lee Turner said the days of a dedicated drugs team were over.

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Detective Chief Inspector Lee Turner

'There has been a change in the landscape. The emphasis is perhaps less on street dealing, so there are less of those indicators that might spark an officer's interest which might lead to a stop and search. We are seeing a lot more drug acquisition through the internet.

Cannabis seized earlier this month at Bouley bay

'Stop and search data numbers have decreased and we are conscious of that – it is an area we are looking at.'

Michael Gafoor, director of Jersey's Alcohol and Drug Service, said although he and his department were concerned about the rise of so-called legal highs he stressed it was important not to lose focus on conventional drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis.

Michael Gafoor

Mr Gafoor, who also sits on the Island's Drugs Misuse Advisory Council, added that, in line with recommendations in the report, Jersey will look to follow the UK's lead in trying to introduce a blanket ban on so-called legal highs. Ministers in the UK are due to publish draft legislation soon.

And despite identifying many areas where the Island can improve, Professor Neil McKeaganey, who helped compile the report, said the States should be congratulated for being proactive on the matter.

'It is over to them now. I did not come away pulling my hair out – drug misuse is a problem all over the world and all agencies are struggling to find the best policy.'

Speaking about improving education, Professor McKeaganey added: 'The recommendation is that education needs to be brought to a much wider age range.'

THE extent of drug use in Jersey has been revealed in a survey carried out as part of a major review into substance use in the Island.

Hundreds of Islanders aged 16 and above took part in the survey – the first of its kind since 2001 – regardless of whether or not they had taken drugs.

Commissioned by the Health Department as part of the Building a Safer Society (BASS) strategy, the review was carried out by a UK expert on substance misuse and aims to provide insights which will help shape the way drug use is tackled. The 61-page report placed heavy emphasis on the relatively recent trend of taking new psychoactive substances – or so-called 'legal highs'.

New psychoactive substances

Age

Children as young as 12 have used so-called 'legal-highs', or new psychoactive substances, the report has found. According to the research the most common age to start using the drugs was 16 (27%). The oldest new user was 57.

'Legal highs' are popular in Jersey

Risk

As many as 31 per cent of people said they believed their new psychoactive substance of choice carried a 'medium health risk'. Four per cent said they believed there was 'no risk' at all and five per cent said they thought their favourite 'legal high' could potentially be fatal.

What are they taking?

The cannabis-substitute Spice, now a class-B controlled drug, which has been responsible for several severe reactions among young people, who have been taken to Accident and Emergency, was the most popular new psychoactive substance among the Islanders who responded to the report.

In total, 38 per cent of those who said they have used 'legal-highs' said they had taken the drug. However, 30 per cent who admitted using new psychoactive substances said they did not know what drug they had taken.

Effects

The most common effect of taking new psychoactive substances was a feeling of 'increased relaxation' according to those surveyed. In total 73 per cent said they had felt relaxed after taking a drug. Approximately 60 per cent of respondents said they had experienced heart palpitations and an increased sex drive. And between 40 and 49 per cent said they had felt anxious, drowsy or nauseous as well as experiencing reduced inhibitions, hallucinations and headaches after taking a 'legal-high'.

NPS and other drugs

Of those surveyed, 18 per cent of people who used new psychoactive substances said they had also used cocaine. A further 19 per cent said they had used ecstasy and 18 per cent reported using prescribed medication to get high.

Where do they buy it from?

Most respondents (40%) said they get their 'legal highs' from 'someone they know but wouldn't call a friend'. The next most popular suppliers were shops and friends (35% each).

Furthermore, 32 per cent said they have been given 'legal highs' at house parties and 23 per cent said they get them online.

Will they use it again?

In total, 50 per cent of those who had used the drugs said they would not touch them again, whereas 84 per cent of those who had never used them said they never intended to take 'legal highs'. Three per cent of Islanders who had taken so-called legal highs said they would 'definitely' take them again.

Illegal or legal?

As many as 42 per cent of respondents who had taken the drugs and 74 per cent who had never tried them said making them illegal would make them less likely to take the drug. Many 'legal highs' are in fact illegal, despite their name. Earlier this month Dr Susan Turnbull, the Island's Medical Officer for Health and Michael Gafoor, director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, who sit on the Misuse of Drugs Advisory Council, said they were carefully monitoring the situation in the UK where MPs are considering a blanket ban on 'legal highs'.

More Information

The majority of people who had never taken the substances said they would be interested in receiving more information about new psychoactive substances, including statistics on deaths (68%), details on the chemicals used in so-called legal highs (68%) and information about health risks (72%).

The majority of those who had taken 'legal highs' before said they did not need to receive more information.

Problem drug-users

  • Eighty-one problem drug users were surveyed – 67 male and 14 female. Thirty-six of them were serving sentences in prison.
  • 48% said that they were using heroin every day
  • 14% were using heroin on most days of the week
  • 66% had also used a new psychoactive substance
  • 53% had injected in the last six months
  • 17% had overdosed in the last year
  • 32% funded their drug use by selling drugs and 16% by theft
  • 23% said they had experienced an overdose in the last six months
  • Around a quarter reported prescription drug misuse.

Drug enforcement

The Jersey Annual Social Survey found that 59 per cent of Islanders felt tackling the supply of illegal drugs into the Island should be considered a 'very high priority' for the States police.

And according to the most recent figures, drug-related offences are at an eight-year low. In 2013 there were 138 offences connected to drugs compared with 199 offences in the previous year.

The overwhelming majority of offences relate to possession.

Seizures

Since 2006 there has been a dramatic decline in the amount of drugs seized by the States police. In 2006 £1,620,021 worth of drugs were seized. That figure has fallen every year since. In 2013 officers seized £270,000 worth of drugs. However, last week the force seized drugs with an estimated street value of £1.2 million following a long-running intelligence-led operation.

Price of drugs

Jersey offers a particularly lucrative market to drug dealers, according to Customs and police officers who were interviewed for the report. Street prices for illicit drugs are 'considerably higher' than the UK. One respondent said that the price for a gram of heroin had remained 'pretty constant' at £1,000.

Cocaine

Jersey's cocaine market is not well understood, the report found. For those who responded to the survey the drug is reserved for 'affluent or middle-class' users. Recent seizures and intelligence on the class-A drug suggest the common perception that there is no market in Jersey is untrue.

Heroin

There was some suggestion that the heroin market had declined over recent years as users turned to cheap and more-easily accessible new psychoactive substances. However, according to the survey that trend seems to be turning, possibly due to awareness among drug users of the health risks of so-called legal highs.

Over-the-counter

According to the reports, high-strength painkiller Tramadol was the prescription drug that pharmacists thought was at most risk of abuse (63%). As for over-the-counter drugs, 85 per cent said they believed that the painkiller Nurofen Plus was most likely to be abused.

Disease

There is a low-level of HIV in the Island but it is a different story for Hepatitis C. There are around 700 carriers of the disease in the Island.

TO the drug barons of Liverpool, Glasgow and Madeira, Jersey is a land of milk and honey. Hugely inflated street prices mean that profit margins here on everything from cannabis and cocaine are significantly higher than elsewhere.

Today, the findings of an independent report commissioned by the States were published. They make for interesting reading.

Among the key conclusions is the recommendation that more money is given to the police and Customs to fight drugs at a time when budgets are being cut.

It is also revealed that Jersey has twice as many 'problem drug users' per capita than the UK.

The cancer of drug abuse might be below the radar of many in an Island which enjoys such an enviable lifestyle, but, increasingly, the threat of so-called 'legal highs' is causing a real worry for parents across the social spectrum. Too many families in Jersey are living with the tragic consequences of the misuse of these mail-order substances.

And yet, as the report points out, the Island does not have a dedicated drug squad. Whether coincidence or not, statistics cited in the report show that the number of drug seizures made by the police fell between 2006 and 2013.

In today's front-page report, Detective Chief Inspector Lee Turner, head of crime intelligence, says that the days of a dedicated drugs team are over. CID and the former drug squad have been subsumed into the 'priority crime team', which currently focuses on burglaries and theft, which are often linked to drugs.

DCI Turner explains that there has been a 'change in landscape' with more drugs being bought on the internet.

It is a fact that Jersey cannot afford to provide the level of public services that we might like, but given our distinct drug market and problems, is it wise not to have a dedicated drug squad?

In the past few years, financial crime has been headline news as global regulations have tightened and international political rhetoric has called for action against those who abuse offshore centres like Jersey.

It is right that we have a dedicated financial crime unit to root out white-collar crime and help protect the reputation of the most lucrative sector of the economy.

But have resources been directed away from pressing problems at home? Is public safety taking a back-seat to reputation?

The police must have the resources to tackle a terrible and deadly problem.

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