DRUGS INQUIRY: 'Put the dealers behind bars for much longer'
In the first of a series of articles about the impact of drugs in Leicestershire, Mercury crime correspondent Ciaran Fagan spoke to a former addict to find out his views on drug laws
If former heroin and crack addict Phil Ward could change one thing about Britain's drug laws he would see dealers spending at least 20 years behind bars.
The 40-year-old was in the grip of the two highly-addictive drugs for more than 20 years and has been in and out of prison for the crimes he committed to support his habit.
Now clean and living and working in Loughborough, the father of three said: "People are still making a lot of money out of heroin, even though the price is stupidly low.
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"If you add up all of the costs to the country – the NHS, the police, the courts and all those victims of crime – it's a huge figure.
"If I could change the way things work, it would be the sentences dealers get. Heroin is evil and it destroys lives. These people destroy lives and make a lot of money out of it.
"So the people who make money out of selling it – not the low-level people, I mean the people driving around in flash cars – should go to prison for at least 20 or 25 years."
He also advocates a system where the state would prescribe heroin to users. However "recreational" drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy should remain illegal, he said.
"It's very hard to get people to come off heroin, but it can be done," he said.
"When you stay off it you think you are dying, you get cold sweats and stomach cramps. But you're not dying, you're actually getting better. After three days it feels better and after a week you're right as rain.
"I don't think the police can keep up with the drugs market. There are cutbacks everywhere now, including police.
"Drug dealers aren't having cutbacks though are they?
"When I first started taking heroin in the late 80s, I had to go to Liverpool or Manchester to get it because it just wasn't available here.
"Now it's all over the place. It's an evil drug but the whole issue of addiction is pushed under the carpet in this country for some reason.
"I think it's good that the politicians are having this debate now. They should listen to people like me who know what it's like to be addicted to this stuff and have been inside the prison system."
Should our drugs laws be changed?
The Leicester Mercury today launches an online opinion poll asking readers if they support a major overhaul of the country's drugs laws.
Readers are asked whether they believe highly-addictive drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine should be decriminalised.
Readers are being asked if they believe cannabis should be legalised. They are also being asked whether they believe highly-addictive drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine should be decriminalised
They are also being asked if they believe cannabis should be legalised.
Responses to the online poll – on the Mercury's website – will feed directly into a major inquiry being conducted by the Home Affairs Select Committee, chaired by Leicester East MP Keith Vaz, and could shape the future of the country's drug laws.
HOW TO VOTE
1. Should possession of cannabis be legalised?
Click here to add your vote.
2. Should possession of drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine be decriminalised?
Use the panel on the right of this article to vote on this question.