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A New Year is here. 2010 promises to be another fantastic year at the RSA for me as well as for the organisation. Unlike the rest of my family and friends, the festive food frenzy and frolics was interspersed with hard study as I began to prepare the first 5000 word essay for my MA. The temptations were many but I managed to squeeze a couple of thousand words out and am thankful that I had the opportunity to reflect on everything I have had the chance to learn, see and experience over the last 6 months since beginning the course and starting to work on the User Centred Drug Services Project (both closely related to one another).

A New Year is here. 2010 promises to be another fantastic year at the RSA for me as well as for the organisation. Unlike the rest of my family and friends, the festive food frenzy and frolics was interspersed with hard study as I began to prepare the first 5000 word essay for my MA. The temptations were many but I managed to squeeze a couple of thousand words out and am thankful that I had the opportunity to reflect on everything I have had the chance to learn, see and experience over the last 6 months since beginning the course and starting to work on the User Centred Drug Services Project (both closely related to one another).

My essay has had me looking at the existing theoretical models of criminality and dependency; essentially the drugs-crime link that has dominated research and policy developments in this field since drugs use was first conceived as a threat in the mid-19th century. Initially presented as a threat to health, it quickly became framed as a criminal justice problem as it began to negatively impact on the 1914 war effort and has continued to be framed as a joint health and criminal justice issue to this day.

The fact is that most of the research about the drugs-crime link has (at varying degrees depending on the theory you’re following) successfully identified most of the correlations between drug use and criminality but it continues to fail to definitively point to the crucial causation part of the equation. Why do people take drugs? Why do people take one drug and not another? Why do people commit crime? Why do some people become dependent? And so on.

Behavioural economics and neuroscience has taught us a lot about the brain and it continues to expand our understanding of certain behaviours and I think it is here that we might be able to start tackling these whys. This is not only because our knowledge about frontal lobes, cortex’s and brain plasticity will increase but because it will open our eyes to new understandings of the environments in which we exist and develop. As my colleague Matt Grist recently wrote in relation to this fabulous publication, ‘the more we learn about what’s in our heads, the more we realise it’s what’s outside our heads that matters’.

The choice to use drugs is usually based on the effects that they produce and to fulfil certain functions. For many the perceived positive effects simply outweigh the negative effects. For some it is part of what is considered ‘normal’ where they live. Whether this is down to the ‘lost social institutions that countered the inbuilt weaknesses of our social brains’ (read Matt’s pamphlet to find out more) or something as yet undefined, drug policy cannot ignore the fact that continuing to frame drug use as a criminal justice and health issue will only continue paste over some of the cracks. This becomes increasingly essential as we find ourselves in a time when polydrug use and concomitant alcohol problems are the defining elements of the European drug problem increasing the risks of acute problems and the development of a chronic drug habit in later life for young people and complicating drug treatment, and increasing the likelihood of offending and violence among older, regular drug users.

Unfortunately I suspect the looming general election will rouse the ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ elements of the debate and focus primarily on enforcement rather than taking the risk to keep scratching at the root causes starting to be uncovered. Oh well, back to my essay...

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