London — British Home Secretary Douglas Hurd is spearheading a Western European crusade against hard drugs amid warnings that it may be years before the narcotics trade can be turned back and defeated. In a keynote speech designed to provide an agenda for a meeting of the interior ministers of the 12 European Community members, Mr. Hurd said the hard drug industry was ``the modern equivalent of the slave trade.'' The seizure of illegal drugs in Britain has increased threefold since 1982, and tenfold since the late 1970s, Hurd said.
A senior Scotland Yard detective backed up Hurd's estimates, reporting that criminals in Britain were earning over 500 million a year from the illegal drug industry. That figure appears to be rising.
The EC drugs summit, with Hurd in the chair, has been arranged to create a framework for a concerted assault on the narcotics trade, in the fields of both prevention and cure.
``Throughout the world, from the richest states to the poorest,'' Hurd declared, ``people fall victim, their bodies wrecked and enslaved to heroin or cocaine. Alongside the drugs trade grows corruption. Its profits build the muscles of organized crime.''
As Hurd was preparing for the EC meeting, his deputy at the Home Office, David Mellor, was in Latin America observing the extent of the drug industry at the point of production. He returned to London ``alarmed'' at what he had seen in nations such as Peru and Colombia.
Mr. Mellor told Hurd that Britain could expect a ``dramatic'' increase in the flow of cocaine and heroin across its borders unless drastic measures were taken. More rigorous checks at ports of entry, coupled with better coordination between countries doing battle with the drug trade, were imperative, Mellor said.
Meanwhile, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which has some 250,000 member companies, has produced guidelines to advise firms about the drug menace that now exists at the management level and on the shop floor.
A new CBI booklet warns that salesmen, middle executives, and even senior management are at risk, as well as ordinary workers. ``This problem does not stop at the factory gates or the office door,'' it says.
According to Scotland Yard detectives, illegal drug users in London are spending over 200 million every year to support their drug habits. Britain has over 50,000 addicts, many of them in the capital.
At a London conference of policemen and security executives, it was predicted that the highly organized structure of the United States illicit drug industry would eventually reach Britain and other EC countries if nothing were done to stop it. Detectives said that US drug traffickers had targeted Europe for the expansion of their activities.