NME Drugs Survey: The Government Responds

Earlier this month, we asked NME readers to tell us about your drug taking habits. We had a huge response – thousands of you took part in our online survey from across the UK, telling us your views on all things drug related, from legalisation to legal highs. You can read more about our findings here. We put the results of our survey to the new drugs minister Norman Baker.

You’re the new drugs minister. Have you ever taken drugs?
I made it public over ten years ago that in the past I had smoked cannabis. This is firmly on the public record. If I had my time again, I wouldn’t do so now.

Do you think if more politicians took drugs, they might be able to understand and deal with drugs policy better?
I suppose as a general principle if you try anything in life you might understand it better, but I don’t recommend trying any drugs to find out.

Have you ever been to a music festival?
Yes, I went to Stonehenge in I think 1983. Music is very important to me. I host a weekly music show on my local FM station, and of course my band The Reform Club released an album earlier this year.

Two in five of our readers have tried legal highs. Reports have suggested that it is impossible to control the increasing wave of these kinds of drugs coming into Britain. Is it?
It’s not impossible and the government has successfully banned hundreds of so-called legal highs. We are able to introduce temporary bans at short notice.

Most of our readers don’t think legal highs should be banned. What do you think?
I’m worried if that is what your findings show. So-called legal highs can often be more dangerous than what might be termed long-established drugs, which themselves have been banned because of their potential to damage human health. It concerns me that people may be misled into thinking that just because a substance is legal, it is safe. It may be very dangerous, and there are already too many well-documented cases of people dying from such substances.

Is the current classing system of drugs fit for purpose considering the wave of new substances coming onto the streets?
Our classification system under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 continues to serve its purpose and provides a coherent legislative framework to protect public health and tackle drug trafficking. We have banned over 80% of the substances seen in the EU.

What is the Government doing to prevent harmful substances such as PMA being sold on the streets?
Our Forensic Early Warning System enables us to closely monitor their availability, so we can target activity to reduce demand and supply.
 We are banning whole groups of substances rather than individual drugs and have introduced temporary drug orders which allow us to place harmful substances under control – protecting the public while giving time to our independent experts to prepare more detailed advice.

A third of our readers always take drugs at music festivals. Will you be clamping down on drug use at festivals next year?
I am very supportive of the policing activity that takes place at music festivals year on year to ensure the public are enjoying themselves in a safe and healthy environment. I encourage police forces to continue to clamp down on those who look to break our drug laws.

I am also pleased to see festival organisers reacting positively and responsibly. Following a Home Office request before the start of the summer the sale of ‘legal highs’ were banned at Reading and Leeds festivals. We are aware that other festival organisers, including those that were visited by the FEWS team, responded in a similar way.

Half of our readers say listening to dance music makes them more likely to take drugs. Do you target music events based on the genre of music?
The aim of our work under the Forensic Early Warning System [a team of scientists who collect and test drug samples at festivals to see what substances are on the market] is to gain a UK perspective on what substances are being encountered at the festivals throughout the summer. We select the events by considering the type of music, the age group of the attendees, the date of the festival and the location.

Over half of our readers think they take more drugs than their parents did. Does research suggest this is true?
There is some research evidence that drug use increased from the 1960s onwards. However, we know that drug usage began falling in the early 2000s and that it is now at the lowest level since we began measuring it consistently in 1996.

What is the current policy on head shops and are you planning to introduce stronger controls on them?
We want police and other UK law enforcement bodies to use the full force of the law to tackle the new psychoactive substances (NPS) trade. This action already includes: closing websites advertising ‘legal highs’ after their ban; a multi-agency working group to identify and tackle this trade amongst organised criminals; ongoing development of a national intelligence picture; and updating national policing guidance for frontline officers, including supporting materials that police can issue to head shops selling these substances to warn them of risks they incur in doing so.

Most of our readers were 15 or 16 when they started taking drugs. Is drugs education good enough in the UK?
We believe that effective drug and alcohol education is essential in tackling the problem of drug and alcohol misuse. I want to ensure that young people are equipped with the information they need to make informed, healthy decisions and to keep themselves safe.