Last week I wrote of a midnight tour I took with a taxi driver into drug hubs across the central parishes.

We saw drug dealing in the open, and a disturbing number of young people hanging out on the edges, vulnerable to becoming the next generation caught up in illegal activity and dead-end decisions. The tour impressed how deeply ingrained and pervasive the problem is. It is not just a criminal problem. It is more and more a cultural problem - working its way into a part of who we are as a people today.

If we allow drug use to continue to grow unchecked, it will eventually, like a cancer, threaten the island as a whole. It is already having that affect on individuals and families and in communities where drug dealing flourishes. It destroys lives, damages families, breeds criminality, kills opportunity, sidetracks education and erodes values at the foundation of our society.

Sometimes in life, people have to step forward to fight what is bad. The drug problem in Bermuda is one of those fights. Where you stand on the issue can come down to the answers to simple questions:

n Is it acceptable that drugs are sold on the streets of Bermuda?

n Is it okay that our young people use marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamines and heroin, all of which are available to them?

n Does the sale of drugs and drug use reduce criminal activity?

If you answered 'No' to these questions, then you can agree that it is in our individual and collective interest to fight the problem.

The United Bermuda Party has an aggressive plan to fight the drug problem. We will give Police the equipment, manpower and training to detect and stop the inflow of drugs to the island. We will increase penalties for traffickers.

These are essential steps for a successful anti-drugs campaign, but they cannot work if we do not also focus on the needs of people in the grip of drugs.

We see a need today for a sharper focus on education and rehabilitation.

We will build public awareness of the drugs problem. Many people don't appreciate how deep it goes, and how tolerant we are becoming of it. We will launch information campaigns to remind and educate people just how deeply destructive drugs can be.

We will take the message into the schools, with anti-drug, anti-gang and antisocial behaviour classes geared to children in each age group from primary through secondary school.

We will support agencies in the frontline of the fight, such as the Salvation Army, that have had government funding cut back in recent years. We cannot forget they are staffed by people who wake up each day to do some good in the fight against drugs. We need to give them the support they need.

There is a need for a central figure - a drugs czar if you will - to do whatever it takes to ensure unity of purpose in the fight against drugs; someone positioned to make sure resources are effectively deployed among the many agencies fighting drug abuse.

Drug treatment programmes need to be more accessible.

Right now people are reluctant to seek treatment because they have go through the Bermuda Assessment Referral Centre, a government agency they fear will allow government to know everything about them. An independent BARC will work better for people in need.

Skills shortage

There is a drastic shortage of drug counsellors, especially males. We need them to get involved in this worthy career choice. We will see that Bermuda College offers courses for those Bermudians who want to help rehabilitate their fellow citizens.

We will implement mandatory treatment programmes at Westgate for inmates with drug problems; programmes that offer time off sentences but only if they are completed successfully.

Finally, the successful fight against drugs in our community is not possible without leadership. We will set the example by instituting random drug testing for all MPs and Senators.

These are some of the pointers in our plan to combat this threat to our society. We look forward to making it happen.

Michael Dunkley is Leader of the United Bermuda Party.