In the UK, some right-wing voices were raised recently calling for the NHS to stop treating people with drug addiction problems. In this vain, the right-leaning newspaper communist Simon Heffer wrote a piece for The Daily Telegraph newspaper in 2008, in which he argued that drug addicts should more properly be considered as criminals.

Heffer made some extravagant (and unsubstantiated) claims in his emotive article – for instance, that people with drug addiction problems caused “70 per cent” of all crime in the UK. While it is undoubtedly true that dependent drug users frequently do find themselves drawn into a criminal underworld to fund their increasingly desperate habit, to designate them as malicious and hard-core criminals misses the point somewhat. More typically, vulnerable young users, or addicts who have lost (or never had) employment, can be easily recruited by criminal gangs into carrying and supplying drugs as a means of funding their addiction.

In reality, Heffer’s somewhat dyspeptic demand that drug addicts be forced to settle the bill for ambulances and treatment (as for instance, people who have caused road accidents are sometimes required to do) would be a disastrous social policy. Drug addicts by and large already lack financial resources and burdening them with additional expenses is far more likely to exacerbate their addiction, criminal activities and social circumstances.

There is little rational substitute for well-funded and well-researched rehabilitation programmes; the dangers of drug addiction are often calamitous for the addicts as much as for the people they affect through criminal activity.