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Illegal drug use kills 3,000 people and costs £20billion per year



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In his weekly Hayes in the House column, MP Sir John Hayes discusses drug and gambling addiction...

A new year brings a new opportunity to reconsider what matters most.
Beyond the current challenges of Covid, other ills which bedevil society must be
addressed.

Amongst which is the often underreported, but always devastating, cost of illegal drug use. It affects society in every conceivable way, sapping our wealth – costing almost £20billion per year – and undermining order, as 300,000 heroin and crack addicts commit nearly half of all burglaries and robberies. Most tragically of all, predatory drug dealers, and the poison they peddle, kill 3,000 people every year.

MP Sir John Hayes (54067214)
MP Sir John Hayes (54067214)

Thankfully, the Government is now tackling this social sickness with understanding and determination. Understanding for those sorry souls who wish to rid themselves of this vice’s pitiless grasp, and righteous determination to punish people who, by dealing drugs, cause hurt and harm.

To beat back the timeless vices which plague humanity, an acceptance of human frailty is necessary. The Government’s new 10-year plan to tackle drug crime is a welcome step towards rebalancing retribution and rehabilitation through a much-needed investment of £300million to shut down drug gangs, alongside a swathe of new proposals to punish the selfish users who fund misery.

Problem gambling has similar affects to drug use. Both kinds of addiction alter minds and spoil lives. Which is why a similarly far-reaching strategy is needed to get to grips with the increasingly prevalent and ever toxic gambling epidemic.

I am not, of course, referring to an occasional ‘flutter on the horses’, a diligently completed weekly pools coupon, or regular trips to the local bingo hall of a kind my mother enjoyed.

Harmful, high-cost, gambling is qualitatively and quantitatively very different. A recent NHS investigation discovered that there are over 400,000 people in England with such an addiction – with two million at risk of developing the debilitating condition. In the face of record numbers of hospital admissions related to gambling addiction and a need for 14 new problem gambling clinics in the coming years, the NHS’ mental health director, Claire Murdoch, concluded that: “Our NHS is fighting back against a rising tide of gambling-related ill health as more people than ever before are being egged-on by shameless gambling firms not just to take a chance with their money, but with their health too.”

Public Health England’s latest study on gambling-related harms makes it clear that she is right.

It shows that there is a constant and pervasive issue of problem gambling threatening the health and wellbeing of “individuals, their families, close associates and wider society.”

A key factor is the ready availability of the means to gamble excessively.

The commercialisation of misery through the profit-hungry expansion of large-scale corporate gambling to quiet rural towns, previously unsullied by its presence and unprepared for its effect, threatens all of our wellbeing.

Spalding’s Market Place is not a hub of night-time activity. It certainly does not have anything remotely similar to a late-night gaming centre – at least not yet.

Alongside many local councillors, I will continue to fight the Merkur Slots proposal to bring such harm to our town. Our nation is suffering from gambling’s corporate oligarchs’ determination to ignore the peoples’ interests in pursuit of their own.

Over Christmas, I watched again Frank Capra’s delightful film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ in which the story’s unlikely hero, George Bailey, played by James Stewart, by seeing what a bleak future might look like, successfully avoids it.

As we enter this new year, the task ahead for Government, and for all of us, is to recognise, as fictional George Bailey did, that, in fact, there is no predetermined, inevitably miserable future; just the one which we choose to build.

We are imperfect creatures open to exploitation, but it is in our capacity to live up to the better aspects of our nature and so resist those hurtful changes which otherwise would darken days to come.



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