03/09/08

Want help quitting your job? It’s a deal

Earn good money but hate your job? The UK charity Switch can help you out. As long as you’re a drug dealer.

Switch is a coalition of community groups based in the Western city of Bristol. The Guardian reports that the group was finding that a lot of dealers wanted out, but felt trapped because there was little else they could do that would maintain their often quite expensive lifetsyles. The publicly-funded group works largely with dealers at the bottom of the food chain, those who churn small deals for the bigger fish, as a way of funding their own drug habits. The story is a bit vague about what Switch actually offers, beyond “suggesting ways of giving [the dealer] the support and skills they need to break away from the streets.”

I’m in two minds about initiatives like this. On the one had, if people really do want out, then any help we can give them is surely a good thing (and certainly cheaper for taxpayers than many more years of cycling them in and out of jail). On the other hand, it smacks rather of those rescue missions for sex workers, which so often do more for the moral superiority of the rescuer than they do for the future of the working girl. Of course it does also open up the possibility of working with those dealers who don’t want to give up their jobs to help make drug-taking less dangerous to their clients.

For the small-time dealer, the “golden cage” probably seems a long way off in any case. While prices of petrol, heating and food soar, prices of drugs are still coming down, according to an annual survey of drug trends in the UK published today by Drugscope. The exception is heroin. The price of smack on the street has risen by 14% in the last year (to £49 a gramme, close to U$ 90), and things are bound to get worse. Just over the summer, the wholesale price has shot up by 30%, to £17,000 a kilo. (That means that dealers within the UK are current creaming off £32,000 a kilo, but I wonder how much of that filters down to the (mostly) boys that Switch are dealing with.) Even the relatively modest price rise on the streets is already affecting consumption patterns, according to Drugscope, with some heroin users switching to Valim (diazepam), which is just £1 a pill. They take it when they can’t afford the real thing, when they’re out of methadone, when they’re coming down. That’s a worry, because it increases the risk of overdose.

Whatever we do on the streets, we could certainly be doing more for drug users (and perhaps pushers) when they are in jail. I was interested to note yesterday (again in The Guardian that the drugs charity RAPT has joined a consortium bidding to run two jails in the UK. They’re hooked up not just with the security firm G4S, but with prison reform charity Nacro. Strange bedfellows, but it should allow drug treatment and post-release programmes to be more thoroughly integrated into the prison system, and that can only be a good thing. On the downside, RAPT is very much focused on abstinence-based solutions to drug abuse; that doesn’t bode well for encouraging the prison system to make sterile injecting equipment available to people who are going to go on shooting up in jail, no matter who runs the service.

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This post was published on 03/09/08 in War on drugs.

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  1. Comment by comment, 28/11/08, 06:02:

    interesting to compare drug dealing with sex work. The Bristol program was acknowledging that dealing is, for many, not a profitable role and can become a downward spiral: dealing to finance use and consequent debt complelling ongoing dealing, even among those who only intended to deal short term … Do wish you could avoid terms like “pusher” and “clean”!

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