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Kathy Gyngell: As taxpayers we all pay a price for drug and alcohol addiction


Earlier this week, I gave James Delingpole a bit of pasting for downplaying the downside of dope smoking.  Whatever your views on the virtues or the perils of legalising this noxious weed, one thing for sure is that after witnessing its devastating effects, as did the award-winning journalist, Patrick Coburn, you’ll never be flippant again.

Nor would you condone anyone you knew using it.  That, of course, is exactly what legalisation would achieve – its use would be sanctioned, which is what we can’t afford.

Unsurprisingly, one or two thoughtful readers took issue with me. Freedom to use drugs has long been the cause celebre of social libertarians.  Freedom is the defining principle – but whose?

“There are plenty of ‘harmful’ substances that adults are free to imbibe. It should not be for a state to ban them”, Sfin wrote.

But in the very next sentence he (I am assuming Sfin is a him!) he added this proviso:

“The role of the State (and I can remember thinking this when the Blair terror banned beef on the bone) should be to inform, educate and, crucially, withhold public money from dealing with individual, negative consequences as a result of actions carried out by competent, informed adults.

“I respect Mr Delingpole’s stance for personal freedom – as his politics determine that it is he who will deal with personal consequences. What I would object to is competent, informed adults exercising their freedom to poison their bodies and then expecting me to deal with the consequences through my tax contributions to the NHS.”

But there’s the rub. This is exactly what we are all doing already – just this – shouldering all the social and cost consequences through our taxes. While there is a Hippocratic Oath on doctors and a free at the point of delivery health service, this won’t change any time soon.  Doctors do not make moral judgements about who deserves their care. How many would pass the test of a healthy lifestyle in Britain today? Not the obese, for sure.

The fact is, desirable or otherwise, millions of people have been and are treated at taxpayers’ expense for alcohol and drug-related disease and accidents, swallowing up billions of tax money. If you doubt me, please check out the pamphlets I researched and wrote on the matter for The Centre for Policy Studies.

One man’s freedom in this case turns out to be a general tyranny. Individuals’ alcohol and drug abuse compromise everyone else’s freedom – family members, colleagues at work and society in general. Lifting sanctions off drugs would create an even greater burden on society. Just look at the effect of alcohol at work.

According to the very reputable Institute of Alcohol Studies, circa £7.3 billion in the UK is lost in productivity; 14-20million working days; 60 per cent of workplace deaths are linked to alcohol as are 40 per cent of accidents.

Drug use is much less prevalent than alcohol just because of its illegality. ‘Progressive’ liberal attitudes are bad enough – they have already  turned London into the coke capital of Europe leaving employers urgently needing to pay attention to the business of health in the workplace

I’ve no doubt this additional burden is one business could well do without. But it is the lesser of two evils.  I remember when I was working at TV-am back in the 1980s the company decided to shoulder the rehab bills of more than one employee whose habits or addiction had begun to take control of them. It was salutary too for their colleagues.

Today all companies and institutions face these problems and have to have an effective alcohol and drug policy. They need to know how to navigate the minefield that is establishing proof of impairment to performance,  whether existing rules or guidelines change when psychoactive substances are consumed outside work, to excess or not, and so on.

Perhaps most importantly they need to help employees face their problem and guide their recovery.

Though fundamental none of this is for the faint-hearted.  That is why Deirdre Boyd’s Recovery Plus Conference initiative on the prevention and treatment of addiction in the workplace is so inspired.

In  my view, this is something for all company managers to attend as well as human resources personnel who often have to deal with such problems. Addiction is still badly understood – even less well understood is the importance (and success of) abstinence-based recovery.

It is might be easier in the short term to brush the problems and consequences of addiction under the carpet. But that is at the price of our freedom as well as our pockets.


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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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