Tackling Rural Drugs Problems
Home Office Police Research Group 1997



Crime Detection and Prevention Series Paper 81

1. Introduction:

Before examining the evidence for drug-taking in a rural context it is important to define some terms of reference. This study will be concerned with the use of drugs which contravenes the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 supplemented by the Drug Trafficking Offences Act of 1986. It will cover what are commonly known as ‘illegal’ drugs - cannabis, amphetamines, Ecstasy, heroin, cocaine, etc - as well as the misuse of tranquillisers and veterinary drugs. It will not cover ‘legal’ drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. However, it should be acknowledged that this neat distinction cuts across some very complex issues relating to the motivations behind drug use, the consequences for the user and for others, and not least in public perceptions of the problem.

We need to bear in mind that we live in a drug-using society that cannot easily be divided into "addicts and the rest when in reality there is a wide spectrum of reliance on artificial aids to living, ranging from an early morning cup of tea to an intravenous injection of heroin" (Teff, 1975). Tea, tobacco, alcohol and heroin are all drugs in the sense that they all contain a "chemical substance, whether of natural or synthetic origin, which can be used to alter perception, mood or other psychological states" (Gossop, 1996). It should also be remembered that drugs which are now illegal have had (and continue to have) vital medicinal applications (Erickson, 1993). Thus any concept of what is a ‘drug’ and what constitutes ‘drug-dependence’ depends on socially-constructed meanings that are culturally and historically defined as well as the pharmacological properties of the substance used (Gossop, 1996; McDermott, 1992; Akers, 1992; Royal College of Psychiatrists, 1987).

Likewise "the acceptability of drug-use behaviour has varied widely across time, culture and substance" (Erickson, 1993). Anyone who introduces the ‘drugs problem’ in public debate has to acknowledge the strength and variety of preconceptions that exist - for example "the drug addict is a violent criminal; the drug addict is a moral degenerate; the drug addict wishes to convert non-users; the drug addict uses drugs because of an inferiority complex" (McDermott, 1992).

The drugs problem is therefore a large and contentious issue not easily categorised nor summarised. In acknowledging the difficulties of neat definition we do not wish to ignore the myriad of perspectives and processes that exist but rather would see them contributing to open debate about the issue of drugs in a rural context as a basis for developing a shared view about the way forward. There is no single entity that can be described as the drugs problem and therefore no simple solution. Drug-taking, like other social activities, is subject to fashion and trends which can be extremely volatile. Effective solutions need to be flexible and sensitive as well as shared.