Ex-Cop Who Went Undercover As Drug User: ‘Policing Drugs Is Completely Futile’

By Victoria Kim 05/18/17

“I used to risk my life doing the work because I used to believe I was doing good. Now I realize everything I did only caused harm.” 

Neil Woods
Neil Woods Photo via YouTube

Neil Woods spent over a decade “fighting” drugs, perfecting the art of posing as a drug addict—but he now says that it was all for naught.

The former undercover narc told The Independent newspaper in a new interview that instead of vilifying drugs like heroin and cannabis, regulating them would be a safer, more sensible strategy. “I used to risk my life doing the work because I used to believe I was doing good,” said Woods. “Now I realize everything I did only caused harm.” The former police officer was a pioneer in his field, helping shape tactics on how to infiltrate drug dealers.

Early in his career he went after crack cocaine, the “latest moral outrage” at the time. But over his 14-year career, as drug dealers caught on and adapted to his police work, he realized that he was doing more harm than good: “It was because of me that organized crime was getting nasty. I was developing the tactics.”

Now, Woods is the chairman of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition UK (LEAP UK), a coalition of current and former law enforcement and criminal justice professionals who believe the War on Drugs is a failure. The organization originated in the United States, where it is now known as the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

LEAP’s message is that the drug war is more dangerous than drugs themselves. “The answer is to regulate drugs and take the power away from organized crime,” said Woods, adding that regulating illicit drugs would be more effective at protecting young people and reducing crime.

“I put dealers in prison for over 1,000 years and I only disrupted the heroin supply for two hours. Policing can’t affect the demand so policing drugs is completely futile,” he said. “More people die and it gets more violent.” He points out that drugs have gotten stronger and cheaper, with a lot more variety, since the UK government passed the Misuse of Drugs Act in 1971.

The time Woods spent undercover as a drug user also taught him a lot about the very people he was manipulating. “When I went into policing I thought addicts had made the mistake of trying drugs and had no willpower to stop,” he said. “Actually, problematic drug users—or at least all the ones I knew—were self-medicating [from trauma].”

In addition to regulating drugs, prescription heroin and better drug testing resources are other strategies Woods now prefers over the drug war. “Prescribing heroin would undermine the power of organized criminals and reduce exploitation,” he explained. “Heroin is a very powerful painkiller of the body but also the mind … These people are slaves to drug dealers.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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