Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Can we also learn from this poor man's death by confronting our national ignorance of serious mental illness?
I am not fully up to date with the extent of education on mental illness in schools or the level of support teachers and other professionals in contact with young people have so that they might intervene in the course of someone's mental illness. I do however know that 12 years ago when my brother was behaving strangely, my family was absolutely failed by the education system (my parents were both secondary school teachers), the primary care system, and our own ignorance of mental illness. I was only able to suggest schizophrenia to my parents after a lecture about mental illnesses in my first year Psychology class at university. From what I recall, my suggestion didn't do us much good as my family's GP at the time expressed the opinion that he "seemed fine the last time I saw him". My brother went on to have three serious psychotic episodes involving hospitalisation in the next five years, attempted suicide on at least one occasion, and is now living alone with his delusions and no ambitions for employment some 12 years later.
In cold economic terms, my brother should be an asset not a burden to society. He was an international volleyball player when he became ill, and later achieved a 1st part-time at Glasgow University. I can't know for certain that early intervention in his illness would have allowed him to achieve the level of success he was destined for, but I'm sure a compassionate ear such as is presented by the early intervention programme presented in the link below, would have done wonders for the whole family in limiting the distress his illness caused.
Akmal Shaikh was well into middle-age when his symptoms first became apparent, so I can only blame our national collective ignorance of mental illness in granting the Chinese the ability to state that he had "no previous medical record" of mental illness. That is of course no excuse for the act of the Chinese in executing this man, but we need to take away much more from this sorry episode than writing another dark chapter in China's book of human rights abuses.
The job of a politician should not be to win votes, to make people richer, or pander to tabloid journalists. The job of a politician is to create and safeguard happiness, and I believe programmes such as this one in Maine can contribute immensely to that:
Early intervention in all illnesses can save lives. From personal experience, early intervention in mental illness has the potential to prevent emotional distress of the highest order.
Thursday, 24 December 2009
Melquisedet Angulo was the only marine who died in a military operation in which one of Mexico's most notorious drug barons was killed last week. In an apparent revenge attack, his mother, aunt, brother and sister have been slaughtered only hours after his funeral.
This is just the latest chapter in a shocking era of drug-fuelled terror that the Mexican government is clearly failing to contain. We need to ask ourselves what is the best way to help the Mexican people end this war. And from where I'm sitting the answer is fairly simple. The only way to prevent the drug users of the world enriching these savage terrorist cartels is to withdraw our support for the documents that grant them their power. The UN drugs conventions allow us to decriminalise drugs (as Portugal has done to great success), they allow us to prescribe heroin to desperate addicts (a model spreading across Europe following Switzerland's lead), but yet they leave the one step that will deprive the true evil-doers in the trade billions of pounds as unthinkable.
When the Portuguese Commission for a National Anti-Drug Strategy considered their options in tackling their nation's rapidly increasing drugs problem, they "concluded that legalisation was not a viable option due, in large part, to the fact that numerous international treaties impose the "obligation to establish in domestic law a prohibition" on drug use" (Quote from http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpapers/greenwald_whitepaper.pdf). To not consider control and regulation of a legal market for drugs that takes away the billions of pounds of revenue from the cartels that are growing in power and influence in Latin America and West Africa is to offer a shrug of indifference to what remains of Melquisedet Angulo's family and to the families of the 15,000 other victims of the Mexican drug war since 2006. The UN drugs conventions are, in effect, contracts granting opportunistic and phenomenally violent criminals the rights to a drugs market worth hundreds of billions of pounds each year.
This is where the Liberal Democrats come in. As founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, I have prepared a motion for Spring conference calling for the control and regulation of all currently illegal drugs. The current draft makes no reference to the UN drugs conventions, but following concerns raised I have proposed adding the following:
"It is precisely because of the Liberal Democrats full support for the excellent work of the UN in promoting liberty, health, human rights, peace and security across the globe that we should withdraw our support for the drugs conventions which are clearly creating quite opposite effects."
It is out of respect for the true aims of the UN that we should withdraw from the conventions which stand in their way.
If the Liberal Democrats were to adopt control and regulation as policy and achieve an unprecedented electoral boost as a result (and I genuinely believe this would occur), then we could be the instigators of a chain reaction that might spread across the world consigning prohibition to its historical status as the biggest, stupidest elephant to have stood in the world's most venerable debating chambers. And Melquisedet Angulo's family would not have died in vain.
Read the arguments I have prepared in support of my motion at http://lddpr.blogspot.com/ and join the debate on Lib Dem Act http://act.libdems.org.uk/group/liberaldemocratsfordrugpolicyreform
And Merry Christmas to one and all.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
When I'm talking to a call centre in Cumbernauld or Clydebank, I'll cough (bad cold) and they'll say "Oh, have you got the cold that's going about, you're not sounding so good?" and I'll reply "Yeah, sorry for all the disgusting noises." We are able to have a conversation based on shared experience, culture and language which flows naturally based upon a level of empathetic understanding. When someone in India asks "Can I call you Ewan (NOT pronounced as read)" and I say simply "No" then we're immediately cast in my mind as the poorly trained performing monkey and the grumpy old man.
Having to have these conversations over the phone further establishes our alienation. They can't pick up the look of dismay on my face as they get my name wrong, I can't pick up the blank affect that they have learned to adopt as protection against British bile. What is worse is the fact that the relationship is likely to be creating considerable prejudice in both nations. We think they're idiots, they think we're angry, impolite racists. I wouldn't be surprised if tourism from India has taken a nosedive since the foreign call centre became commonplace. Anyone thinking of a visit will be told by all call-centre staff "Oh no, don't go there, they're all arseholes. I was just doing my job today, telling this guy "Ewan" - what kind of stupid name is that? - what he asked (yeah right) and he says "You're idiots, f*** off" No manners"
As soon as I've paid off my overdraft I'm finding a bank with no overseas call centres to do my bit for British-Indian relations. I never again want to tell a call-centre worker who I'm sure was trying his hardest to "f*** off".
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
The government have just asked police forces to find more than £500 million in savings each year up until 2014. Suggested solutions include cutting overtime and making officers patrol alone "to make them more accessible"
There is another option for saving money, a policy that could reduce acquisitive crime by over 50% and domestic burglaries by around 80%, thus freeing up tens of thousands of police for joint patrols or other priorities. Bringing drugs under the control and strict regulation of government gives us an opportunity to make heroin and crack users able to feed their habit without having to commit crime or prostitute themselves to fund it. The vast majority of addicts arrested for these crimes get released a few months later and then are back inside not long after that. The whole debacle reminds me of the You've Been Framed classic in which a small child keeps picking up a fish and putting it in a bucket of water only for it to jump right out again seconds later.
Surely the police force will be far better placed to keep communities safe while enduring these cuts if we removed the burden created by stubborn, cowardly and utterly self-defeating drugs policy.
Friday, 13 November 2009
We now have all the tools necessary to build the Britain we want to live in, and perhaps the most finely crafted can be found here: www.tdpf.org.uk/blueprint%20download.htm
Sunday, 8 November 2009
The uncomfortable truth is that there are around 250,000 of us who are actively undermining that effort. People who, when combined with their fellows around the world, provide around 50% of the Taliban's funding. For the vast majority it is not their intention to fund the insurgency of religious fundamentalists, and even if you told them they were funding the Taliban, they would struggle to stop. These people are heroin addicts. 92% of the world's heroin originates in Afghanistan, and the Taliban's taxes on the trade and heroin stockpiles are what accounts for around 50% of their income.
So what is the best way of breaking this link between British heroin addicts and the Taliban?
We have tried eradicating poppies in Afghanistan, an act which unfortunately has much the same impact as disrupting trafficking in and around the UK. Namely, the price for the remaining heroin goes up and the Taliban makes the same amount or more money. Indeed the Taliban themselves suppressed opium growing in Afghanistan in 2000 and apparently reaped great financial reward from their efforts "The total farm-gate value of opium rose from US$56 million in 2001 to US$1,200 million in 2002" (UNODC (2004), ‘Presentation to the International Crisis Group on Afghanistan’, Brussels, 5/VII/2004). http://bit.ly/19OsRn
Efforts to get addicts off heroin have been successful up to a point, but methadone is a more harmful drug to an addict's health, and is often ineffective in reducing demand for street heroin. Prison is an ineffective deterrent, and rehab is expensive and often unsuccessful.
There is one option available to us that we have yet to try on any great scale. Opium poppies are already being grown in Britain to provide medical opiates in the treatment of our sick. If we were to expand the growing of opium poppies and treat our addicts medically with prescribed heroin, and if other countries were to do the same, we could remove the demand for Afghan opium, and so remove half of the Taliban's current funding, reducing their ability to buys guns, explosives and bullets with which to resist democratic reform and attack British soldiers trying to help Afghanistan rebuild after Taliban rule.
It is the government's short-sighted drugs policy that is funding the Taliban, not the hapless drug-addicted wretches in our cities and towns.
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
I appealed against the decision with the help of Inverness CAB (Thanks Iain) and was told to expect about a six month wait. My tribunal happened on Monday and lasted all of one minute. The judge (put up in the nicest hotel in Inverness the night before) stated that I should have scored at least 3 extra points in various categories and so was approving my appeal. So off I trot to await the £1200 in arrears that have accumulated over the last 7 months.
I was lucky. Had I been on ESA when I was judged fit for work I would have had to claim Jobseeker's Allowance whilst knowing that I was incapable of work. It can't be fun having to apply for jobs you know you will not be able to carry out adequately.
Labour and the Conservatives both want to get 500,000 supposedly fit IB and ESA claimants onto Jobseeker's Allowance, saving £25 a week. I'm sure there are many people out there who are capable of work, but I would much prefer they used the carrot rather than the stick. Both the personal advisors that have been assigned to me have been lovely people who helped me try permitted work last year for a few months to build my confidence. My health didn't last, but the experience was vital in demonstrating to me that there is a path out of incapacity benefit when the time is right.
Over two fifths of IB claimants in Scotland have mental or behavioural disorders such as depression or anxiety. The volunteering and permitted work options could be vitally reassuring in their return to employment, or an effective way to trial various types of work to gauge their suitability. Removing such people abruptly from Incapacity Benefit risks making these stress-related conditions considerably worse and might place additional burden on the health service.
Forcibly moving people off IB adds to the workload of the DWP in processing appeals, costs about £300 a time for each tribunal (at a rate of £300 a minute for mine), and around 45% of appeals are successful. This rate rises to nearer 60% when the appellant has representation. My representative was a welfare rights worker at the Citizen's Advice Bureau (a service already overstretched by the demands of the recession). If someone could let me know how many incapacity benefit recipients appeal removal of benefit (Table IB1.10 I don't have Excel) http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd1/ib_sda/ib_sda_nov03.asp I might be able to show that the savings the Tories are projecting are insanely optimistic.
Anyway, my chronic fatigue is back again and I'm wilting and ready for bed so this blog post is just going to fade out with this highly unsatisfactory closing sentence.
Monday, 2 November 2009
The Liberal Democrats need to position themselves as the party that will listen to scientific advice
I am heartened by the responses coming from prominent Liberal Democrats on this issue but, with the Tories stating they would have sacked him sooner, we have a fantastic opportunity to establish clear water between ourselves and the other parties on this. We can be the party that listens to evidence presented to us by experts, and the party that formulates policy based upon expert advice. Now is the time to ask scientists, sociologists and economists the bigger question in drug policy:
Does prohibition actually work in reducing the harms drugs cause to individuals and society?
On the 12th of November the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation will be in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons launching their publication "After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation" I hope to hear the Liberal Democrats welcome these proposals and to see evidence that they are re-examining their rather confused drugs policy as a result. As the founder of the Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, I will be attending the launch of the Blueprint for Regulation and hope to use it as a starting point from which to push for an examination of current Liberal Democrat policy, the discussion of other policy options and the production of a motion proposing more sensible policy for consideration by party members at Spring conference.
If you wish to join the drug policy debate within the party, please contribute your thoughts at www.lddpr.org .uk
Thursday, 29 October 2009
Belittling the link between cannabis and schizophrenia should come second to ensuring education at point of sale.
"Professor Nutt accepts there is a link between cannabis and mental ill-health. He cites research suggesting that "smokers of cannabis are about 2.6 times more likely to have a psychotic-like experience than non-smokers".
But he points out that "you are 20 times more likely to get lung cancer if you smoke tobacco than if you don't." In other words, he says, "(T)here is a relatively small risk for smoking cannabis and psychotic illness compared with quite a substantial risk for smoking tobacco and lung cancer". "
Given that risk of schizophrenia for a sibling of a schizophrenic is around 10%, I would have been very grateful for the information that joining my friends in smoking cannabis as a teenager might have increased my risk of psychosis to around 1 in 4. Very grateful indeed. Schizophrenia isn't comparable with lung cancer. Lung cancer generally affects people in old age (though of course you can get it younger if you smoke), schizophrenia generally strikes in your late teens or your early twenties and is very capable of radically altering your personality to one that your friends and family find bewildering and frightening. It can lead to a lifetime of exclusion, torn between the drugs that numb your emotions and the exciting delusions that keep your mind busy, but that can severely impair your social functioning.
I wrote the above earlier, and now that I've just finished watching question time, I'm dismayed by the pride in stupidity that Jacqui Smith, the tory, the Plaid guy and John Sergeant displayed. If cannabis is so very dangerous then you need to educate people about the dangers and be in a position to help them if they get into trouble. Making it more illegal doesn't have any effect on levels of use and will only make them less likely to seek help if they get into difficulty. What is perhaps more important, is that their friends, who are probably in the best position to guage their changes in personality, are going to be less likely to seek help on their behalf if they witness problems emerging. The best way to keep our young people safe is to ensure that education on risks is provided every time a purchase is made (as is the case currently with tobacco, a more addictive drug, so presumably a less effective deterrent than would be the case with cannabis. The cannabis education should be more extensive than "You'll Go Mad" on the side of the packet though). The pharmacist, the doctor, the police and the family need to be seen as friends and allies in this, not the enemy to be avoided and deceived.
I have seen what happens when schizophrenia is not caught early, and I would not wish it on my worst enemy, not even Jacqui Smith. The enemy in all this is ignorance, and the best way to combat it is to seize the market from organised crime, and ensure the strictly regulated trade in cannabis has education at point of sale at its core.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
My conference experience can be rather neatly summated by relating to you my maiden conference speech that I sadly didn't get to deliver in response to the motion “A Fresh Start for Britain: Choosing a Different, Better Future.”
Good morning conference. In 1997, when Labour were elected, I was skipping joyfully down the streeet arm in arm with friends in the early hours of the morning. I was 17 years old, jubilant, and full of hope. You can probably tell by my standing on this stage (This never happened -ed) that I have since found that hope to have been misplaced and have found the need to find a new home for my hopes for social justice, my commitment to compassionate, evidence-based policy, and my rejection of knee-jerk populism.
I joined the Liberal Democrats about 18 months ago for something to do. I suffer from chronic fatigue and was spending my days playing monotonous computer games and watching DVDs. The Inverness Thursday club envelope stuffing and blue envelope writing sessions quickly became a highlight of my week, but they weren't exactly forums of cutting edge political debate. So earlier this year I sent letters to my local MP, Danny Alexander on the subject of drug policy and electoral reform, and while Danny didn't agree with all I wrote, he welcomed my thought-provoking contribution and encouraged me to attend conference. There are no words for the gratitude I feel towards Danny for doing this. This policy motion neatly summarises everything I have loved about my experience this week. Everyone I have talked to has been highly intelligent and open to any ideas that can improve the lives of British citizens. This party is a party committed to rational policy making, not cynical populism, and this policy motion reflects this.
I'd now like to address the massive number of young people watching this on BBC Parliament (3 can be a massive number if you project it onto the side of a building... pause for laughter... (carry on regardless -ed) ) What are you doing joining radical charities and going on marches when you could be joining a political party and changing politics from the inside (I have plans to submit a motion on drug policy and prostitution for spring conference and given this party's commitment to rational, evidence based policy I hope it will be accepted). If you are thinking of taking your passion for politics to either of the other parties, well anyone describing the Tories or Labour as progressive has lost the plot...
And that's where my “speech” fades out, hastily scrawled in my stewards chair when I should have been listening intently to the motion on rail franchises. At conference I contributed to a policy consultation on mental health, drugs policy and electoral reform. I made my feelings known to an electoral reform rally on the urgent support I feel there should be for the Alternative Vote. I sneaked into various events I shouldn't have been at and saw Nick Clegg speak very well four times to various audiences. I hatched a plan with a prostitution advocacy charity to help women off the street and out of brothels. And I addressed a packed fringe event on drug policy reform and gained a near unanimous mandate to produce a motion for Spring conference advocating bringing all aspects of the drugs trade under strict regulatory control. There is one thing about the experience that I do regret though, and that's shouting “I'm voting Tory!” at Nick Clegg after he made a bad joke at glee club. Nobody laughed at his joke or mine. That would have been the fifth time I'd heard him speak well, but sadly he's no comedian.
If you're wondering about my health, it appears the latest herbal remedy is working well, or maybe I just needed my body to start feeling proud of what my brain was doing with its days again. Whatever the reason, it appears my chronic fatigue is on the back foot and I now find myself eyeing up an application pack for becoming a PPC for the coming election. I hope you'll understand now why I seized the opportunity to write this piece. Attending conference might have radically changed my life.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
"Having read further on the issue of prostitution, I also have to say that I cannot support the Demand Change position any longer. Reducing demand without reducing supply has apparently led in Sweden to prostitutes accepting customers they previously would not, lowering prices and generally feeling more at risk. Although I respect greatly the work of Eaves and have been defending you vigorously on the online Lib Dem Voice forum, I cannot support a blanket ban on paying for sex.
I have however settled upon a compromise solution that I hope you will consider. I believe it might be more effective than clause 13 in tackling trafficking and pimping, and it also might be acceptable to those few prostitutes who make considerable money from prostitution and assert they have a right to sell sex.
The starting point of the plan would be to bring about a strictly regulated legal drugs market that would alleviate the need to find considerable amounts of money for drugs that motivates the vast majority of street prostitution. There would also be a considerable reduction in acquisitive crime that would in turn free up many thousands of police for other priorities. I feel strongly that one of these should be a concerted effort to raid and close brothels, providing support to those women and girls who are freed and making Britain a very unwelcoming destination for sex traffickers. This effort could be supported by a toughening of clause 13 to make it illegal for anyone to pay for sexual services in a brothel.
I would hope this plan would reduce the number of street prostitutes, so allowing any remaining to be more careful when accepting clients and to charge higher prices. I suspect though, that many established red-light districts would simply collapse if the number of prostitutes went below a certain level.
I also hope it would be effective in tackling brothel-keepers and pimps whose activites are currently illegal but bizzarrely appear to be being tolerated by the authorities. While street prostitution is dangerous, the worst-case brothel is the site at which the most horrific abuse is being perpetrated and I hope you would agree it should be the focus of our attentions.
This all leaves the problem of where the demand goes for sexual services and whether lone working prostitutes can keep safe. To improve the safety of independent prostitutes I believe the law should specifically allow two women to work from the same premises, ideally with extensive support from social and emergency services. Keeping the number to two I believe should minimise the opportunity for control to be exerted and should allow for clear distinction between a working partnership and a brothel in the eyes of the law.
I hope you'll understand that I deeply respect the work that Eaves does, and that this proposal is a genuine attempt to come up with a plan that will maximise the safety of prostitutes who want to work, while doing all we can to save others from suffering further horrific abuse.
Thanks and best wishes,
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
The pimp state
Daily Mail, 18 December 2006
"The idea that legalising drugs would get rid of crime is simply risible. Legal drugs would always be undercut — both by lower prices and higher strengths — by a black market. The only way to eradicate such an illegal trade would be to supply unlimited quantities of all drugs totally free of charge."
If this paragraph contains Melanie's argument for prohibition then I do believe we've won. All the commonly abused but illegal drugs except cannabis would I presume be manufactured pharmaceutically were they to be legal and regulated. They would therefore be required to be without contaminants and essentially be as pure as is possible. I would be very impressed if the illegal market could produce product stronger than pure so as to draw customers away from the state. I can envisage a few desperate street pushers trying to market "110% heroin", but I doubt they would last very long.
In the case of cannabis, I would hope that pharmacies would stock a range of strengths and active ingredient ratios to suit every taste. While some customers might enjoy the lucky dip aspect of their dealer telling them "this is the good shit right here", I feel most would find their favourite legal strain and stick to it for the most part, maybe changing up for special occasions.
On the price point Melanie makes, we have to examine what motivates the drug dealer. Melanie may think they are hell bent on destroying the British way of life through any means, but the reality is that they are motivated by profit. The state on the other hand is free to set prices at whatever level they see fit. They need not necessarily profit, although it would be a lot easier to do so without the risk premium that is integral to the illegal trade. They could appoint an independent body to monitor levels of use and the level of illicit trade and to set prices designed to restrict growth of both of these factors.
I'll admit eradicating illegal trade completely might be tricky, but there aren't many people pushing alcohol on the streets of our cities, perhaps because people can be fairly sure off-licence bought booze is only going to contain the poison they enjoy and isn't going to be fortified with meths and other nastiness.
Tomorrow I plan to critique a conservative home submission by a barrister, former chief of staff to David Cameron and "World Universities Debating Champion". He'll be well used to putting together persuasive arguments that are wrong then.
Monday, 28 September 2009
We now know that they don't have to live this life of shame. Prescribing heroin (and/or cocaine) can break the cycle of chaos and allow them to reflect on their lives with the knowledge that they need not go back to stealing and/or prostituting themselves. But yet we hesitate to embrace this new initiative. In the Daily Mail the Taxpayers Alliance states:
"Many taxpayers will have a massive problem paying for addicts’ heroin, particularly at a time when the NHS is unable to provide them with doctor’s appointments or life-saving cancer drugs."
But the Taxpayer's Alliance fails to recognise that in the status quo everyone continues to unwittingly play the "victims of crime" lottery.
Release the balls please.
And the first ball out is BURGLARY! Yes, Janet from Wokingham, you'll go home to find your new flatscreen TV, your Wii, and all your heirloom jewellery gone and your house in a bit of a state. There hasn't been a day when Burglary hasn't been drawn, and 80% of domestic burglaries are motivated by drug use. Hard luck Janet.
Next ball is MUGGING! Angela from Poole, it appears your husband has been stabbed by a drug addict because he wouldn't give up his watch and wallet. Ooh, it says here he's in intensive care so yes Angela, you are excused.
And the third ball out is PROSTITUTION! You won't like this Dave from Milton Keynes. That new boyfriend your 14 year old daughter mentioned just happens to be a drug addict, has your daughter hooked on drugs and she won't be home tonight because she's working the streets in your wife's favourite minidress to fund their addiction. Woah, hard luck Dave...
...you get the idea...
So commiserations to our losers and we'll see you in about 5 minutes time when we start all over again. We're here 24/7 year after year until the Daily Mail , the Taxpayer's Alliance and the rest of the country's prejudiced individuals remove their blinkers and realise what's really going on.
So, back to my point. The addicts may be too ashamed to fight for their own rights so we should fight for them. And frankly, I think we have a right to live in neighbourhoods with vastly reduced levels of burglary, mugging and prostitution do we not? Also, a (few years old now) leaked Downing Street strategy unit report found a yearly £16bn cost of crime committed by addicts to fund drug use. We could really be doing with that money right now.
Addicts' rights to live a life free of shame allow the rest of us to live a life free of fear. Please support the prescription of hard drugs whenever and wherever you can.
An excerpt from Drug Crazy by Mike Gray:
"Crack cocaine, of course, is an unparalleled menace, but the prohibitionists hardly have clean hands on this issue. Crack is a creation of the black market. The only reason for its existence is economic. It’s cheap. Unfortunately you get what you pay for. The high lasts only seconds before the bottom drops out, but low cost makes it available to the blue-collar market. There are few crack addicts on Wall Street. The traders prefer the smoother ride of the pure powder, and they can afford it. If prescription cocaine were available to serious addicts, there is every likelihood the demand for crack would disintegrate. In Liverpool, where John Marks gave addicts cocaine by prescription, nobody asked for crack."
This 5.5 tonnes of uncut cocaine could have come in very handy in the effort to protect our communities from crime. Examination of the results of the heroin prescription trials much publicised in the press earlier this month, shows that three quarters of the heroin addicts included in these trials were also crack addicts.
"those in the heroin group were committing a total of 1731 crimes in the 30 days prior to entering RIOTT treatment and after 6 months, this fell to 547 crimes"
How much further would this figure have fallen if the crack addicts had been prescribed cocaine alongside their heroin? The next course of action is not to expand the heroin prescription trial, but to accept the overwhelming international evidence of its benefits and roll out heroin prescription to every community that needs it. Scientific attention should now be turning to cocaine in an attempt to ascertain whether cocaine prescription can keep crack addicts out of trouble too.
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Here is my comment in response to the blog post that I have posted on their website:
There are several problems with your arguments against prescription. Firstly, not including the criminal act of taking heroin, nearly all of heroin addicts' crimes will be acquisitive crimes to fund the drugs that will cost them around £400-£600 per week. If you reduce the cost of this habit to zero, you remove the need to commit crime to fund it and so are likely to greatly reduce your criminal activity. Yes, some will still occasionally commit crime, but I suspect this is only because they have been driven to break the moral taboo of criminal activity by the inflated costs of prohibited heroin. Simple economics of scale should reduce rapidly the £15000 per year cost of the scheme if it were expanded. If the cost is what you object to, why do you not suggest solutions to this? Finding alternative sources of heroin, direct purchase of opium from Afghan farmers for example, would greatly reduce costs. Can we not exempt addictive drugs from free prescription charges and allow the addict to at least partially fund their provision?
If heroin prescription is expanded to all users who currently commit acquisitive crime to fund their habit, there is the potential to reduce domestic burglaries by 80% and bring two thirds of street prostitutes off the street corners. Billions could be cut from criminal justice costs, not counting the massive benefits to the taxpayer of being freed from the fear of crime that addicts currently create by their actions.
Your shortsightedness on this issue is massively failing the interests of the taxpayers you claim to represent.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Sunday, 20th 18.15 - 19.30
Bournemouth International Centre (BIC),
Liberal Democrats For
Drug Policy Reform
What Can Be Gained From
Thoughtful Drug Policy Reform?
Chaired by: Dr Evan Harris MP.
Speakers include: Francis Wilkinson, former chief constable of Gwent police, Danny Kushlick of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Graham Watson MEP, and Ewan Hoyle of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform.
In March of this year The Economist’s cover story was “Prohibition
has failed; legalisation is the least bad solution”. Esteemed
columnists such as Polly Toynbee, Nick Davies, Johann Hari and
Simon Jenkins, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Lord
Adair Turner and Tory leader David Cameron have all recognised
prohibition as a failure and called for legalisation to be considered.
But just how damaging is prohibition to our society? How should
we regulate a legal trade in drugs? And can a policy of regulated
supply be a vote winner at the coming election?
Transform website: http://www.tdpf.org.uk/
Leaked drugs report:
Recent Pro-legalisation articles in:
The Financial Times:
David Cameron MP’s views:
An excellent book on prohibition by Mike Gray, author of The China Syndrome:
For further information or to join
Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform
Saturday, 5 September 2009
For all of these goals I feel strict regulation is required and the strictest of regulation can be achieved by total state control of the trade. I cannot leave these substances in the private sector and our young people at the mercy of their marketing techniques and profit motive.
I suspect the people of the country would rather we err on the side of more state control rather than less. The whole policy would be quickly endangered if any newspaper could print the headline "Drugs epidemic sweeps country". It is for this reason that I am seriously considering recommending a kind of ration book/ID card. Yes you're all liberals and ID cards are evil, but please hear me out on this.
Any UK resident could apply for a card (drugs tourism already covered). It could be argued that no identifying demographic information should be linked to the card. Rather the card is just a means by which excessive purchasing could be prevented and health interventions could be offered. We would need to prevent people buying quantities that could only be interpreted as being for resale. For example, customers could be sold a week's supply of cannabis, a weekend's supply of ecstasy or cocaine etc. (exact quantities would have to be determined by people more knowledgeable than myself). When customers are identified by the computer system as being regular and/or heavy users, the pharmacist could be prompted to discretely offer an appointment with a suitably trained professional in which health and social issues stemming from drug use could be discussed. The system would also allow statisticians to effectively monitor drug use among different demographic groups and suggest health and education interventions to ensure people are kept safe in areas of concern. For example, if there was a rise in ecstasy purchases in an area, the pharmacists could be checked for best education practice, and the clubs could be assigned health workers to distribute education material about safe use. If any drugs epidemic were to threaten to appear, the knowledge on where and in which demographic population would be vital in organising a suitable response.
I would also suggest extending the card purchasing scheme to off-license and supermarket purchases of alcohol (and cigarettes?). Firstly, it would reduce the stigma of holding the card. Many young people would dread certain relatives finding a card that identified them as a drug user. If the card also allows sale of alcohol, then many parents would deem it acceptable, and so young people would be more likely to turn to the newly legal drugs market. Secondly - and this is where you might think I'm getting too illiberal - this scheme could be very effective in keeping drugs and alcohol out of the hands of the under-age. If each drugs or alcohol purchase was recorded by this card system, then it might be possible for separate packages of drugs or alcohol to be identified as being purchased by a specific person. Say the police come across some under-age drinkers in a park, they could scan an identifier on the drinks container and find out that Joe Bloggs of 10 Bloggs Road purchased that beverage in the last few hours. Legal purchasers could be strongly discouraged from providing any drug to the underage by this system. I am by no means committed to this idea, it is just something I think could be considered (it does after all mean that identifying demographic information would have to be linked to the card, which contradicts my earlier point). The shock of this could be lessened somewhat by allowing the nearly of age to consume under suitable adult supervision. For example, lowering the drinking age to 16 for specially licensed premises. Most voters would probably agree that children should be prevented from taking drugs. This might be the best way of making this happen.
To cover the point about leakage overseas, I would suggest heroin should not leave the clinic at which it is sold or prescribed, and problem crack and heroin addicts could be sold cocaine or heroin with a subsidy that diminishes over time to encourage cessation of use. No drug that could leave the premises would be sold at a price that would so undercut the illegal market as to make export worth the risk. Again, I am not completely committed to this either and would be interested to hear what others think.
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Following this discovery, I can now confidently propose my solution to binge drinking. The plan would be to reform the licensing laws to create premises (or zones within premises) either designated as conversation areas or dancing areas. Conversation areas could be limited to a music volume of around 72dB, and could be your usual pub environment: tables and chairs, wine bottles with candles in, glasses with plastic flowers, whatever takes your fancy. Dancing areas can have the music at whatever level they like, but with no seating, and no tables. You're either there to chat to your friends... or to dance. There is no point in being sat at a table incapable of communication and incapable of monitoring your ability to stand up straight. It is about time somebody stood up and said "That is a crap night out." Give me somewhere I can chat and laugh, give me somewhere I can dance. But you can stick your tequila slammers, flaming sambucas, slippery nipples and pitchers of binge right up your fat publican bottom.
Hmm. Turns out I was more passionate about this subject than I thought.
On a more sober note (ahoho), would it not be better if our youngsters were drinking with responsible adult supervision and examples than necking vodka and cheap cider in parks. Perhaps we should consider opening up these conversation and dancing areas to 16 and 17 year olds. Give them an idea of what adult drinking behaviour is like. Obviously, certain premises might not be deemed suitable for the youngsters, and some might not want their custom. But where's the harm in letting teenagers enjoy the pub quiz, the karaoke night and the pool table at the local family pub? Better the landlord phones up to tell you your son or daughter is a little worse for wear, than a medical professional phoning to say they've had their stomach pumped and have lost a tooth.
Thursday, 30 July 2009
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
The solution to psychosis is far from simple, which sets it apart from a problem I was presented with in harrowing manner by the Cutting Edge documentary "Killer in a Small Town". The film presents the stories of the young women who were murdered in the space of a month by Steve Wright in Ipswich in November and December of 2006 and one sequence particularly affected me. Three women that were reported to be prostitutes had been murdered in Ipswich in recent days and the police were asking the girls who worked the town's red-light district to stay at home. In an interview with an ITV News reporter when asked "Despite the dangers, why have you decided to come out tonight?" one of those young women replied "Because I need the money. I need the money." That young woman was 24-year-old heroin addict Paula Clennell, who was to become Steve Wright's 4th victim. As I watched this I was thinking "Just give her the drugs. Can the police not give her some drugs, just to keep her safe until the killer is caught?" But they couldn't do that. Heroin is illegal.
There are thought to be 80,000 prostitutes working in the UK. 93% of them are using illegal drugs. Studies suggest that two thirds of prostitutes are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. You'll probably all have heard of PTSD in the context of soldiers coming back from the horrors of war, yet only 1 in 8 soldiers returning from Iraq meet the criteria for the diagnosis and the British deployment was never more than 45,000. Our soldiers have the comfort of knowing they fight for Queen and country, as our prostitutes are raped every night by our mistaken belief that they can just say no to drugs, or that prohibition works and everything will be ok if we just get tougher. As the bodies of our brave soldiers are flown back from Afghanistan there are growing calls to "Bring our boys home". Where are the marches asking for the government to bring our girls home?
For more of my views on drugs see http://forum.libdemvoice.org/ I proposed a motion for the coming conference in the policy forum and my ideas on the effective control of drugs are presented there. I am currently trying to put together a fringe event at the coming conference with the working title of "Can bringing drugs under effective legal control improve our society, save billions and win votes?" and could do with some moral support, practical help, useful advice, whatever.
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Thursday, 16 April 2009
1 "Drugs are controlled because they are harmful.
2 "The law provides an important deterrent to drug use and legalisation would risk a huge increase in consumption with an associated cost to public health.
3 "The legalisation of drugs would not eliminate the crime committed by organised career criminals - neither ; such criminals would simply seek new sources of illicit revenue through crime."
"Drugs are controlled because they are harmful.”
The notion that illegal drugs are in any way “controlled” is utterly preposterous. The very essence of the illegal market is that it is carried out without any government regulation or control. Controlling illegal drugs is exactly what the reform advocates are proposing, and regulating manufacture and retail of drugs will considerably reduce the harm they can cause. All the illegal drugs are harmful it is true, but they are made considerably more dangerous by accidental or deliberate contaminants, inconsistent preparation strengths and ignorance of safe use.
The harm caused by cannabis and the skunk varieties in particular is causing great debate in the media. There is a strong likelihood that the skunk situation has been brought about because of simple production economics. Cannabis plants have been selectively bred and grown to maximise profit for the number of plants you are able to grow. Skunk is the strongest variety you can grow, so you will make more money growing and selling skunk. Were cannabis to be legalised, I would hope that a wide variety of strengths and active ingredient ratios would be on offer, so that the customer has the option of choosing the mellow, giggly cannabis variety rather than the anxiety, paranoia, delusion and perhaps mental illness inducing varieties that may be dominating the illegal market (certainly the press).
There is also a strong possibility that users of heroin will be able to move away from injection, the current likely method of administration. Injection of heroin maximises the delivery of the drug to the brain for each unit purchased. With prescribed or cheaply available heroin this cost consideration is no longer relevant, so users could employ safer, if less efficient, methods of administration.
“legalisation would risk a huge increase in consumption”
The likelihood of increased consumption is very small.
Currently, the vast majority of people's first exposures to any drug will occur in a social environment, most likely coinciding with the consumption of other drugs with which the person is already familiar (alcohol being the most likely). The person offering the drug experience will probably, in the case of “low-harm” drugs such as cannabis, amphetamines, ecstasy or cocaine be using their access to drugs as social currency. It is unlikely that they will be seeking any financial benefit, rather they are just showing off and wanting to make friends. A naïve, inebriated party-goer might judge this drug-provider as someone with connections, someone they would rather not offend, or they might just be curious about the drug experience and be unsure when another opportunity to experiment might arise.
Consider now a similar scenario in an environment of regulated drug supply. The person with drugs is now just some guy who went to the chemist. They need not be especially well connected, they have nothing to brag about and they are altogether less interesting. The person being offered drugs knows that they can go to the chemist themselves the next day if they are really interested and would know that the person offering the drug is committing the offence of unlicensed supply if they accept.
The current common scenario with heroin and crack is that the benign show-off of the soft-drug example is most likely themselves addicted to the hard drug being offered and is now more interested in making customers than friends. Such people will routinely seek out vulnerable young people and offer them some heroin or crack, often without disclosing the drug's identity, in the hope of recruiting them as customers for the drug they are selling to fund their own habit.
If prohibition was to end then heroin and crack addicts would have nothing to gain from exposing others to the drugs they use. Their drug of addiction would be either available on prescription or at an affordable rate that need not be funded by criminal activity.
I suspect and hope that the culture of drug use at social gatherings will become the far more mature and responsible “get your own” model that currently applies to alcohol at student parties. Such a rule for drugs would also be much easier to maintain as the drugs being used would not need to be kept in the fridge and can be safely stored in a pocket or purse.
If all drugs were legalised and regulated there would be no formal marketing and any unlicensed supply would be illegal and should be heavily punished. Anyone interested in obtaining drugs would have to go to a licensed pharmacy where they should be given the necessary educational material to allow them to make an informed decision on whether to proceed. I feel it wise that a request for heroin by any customer be followed by a week-long cooling-off period similar to those required when purchasing firearms in the USA. It is not desirable for anyone to be able to obtain such a powerful drug for recreational use on a whim or a “bad day”.
"The legalisation of drugs would not eliminate the crime committed by organised career criminals - neither ; such criminals would simply seek new sources of illicit revenue through crime."
There are so many things wrong with this presumption. Criminals are in the illegal drug trade because it is easy, highly profitable and, on examination, no more morally wrong than working in an off-license.
Drug-dealing is a victimless crime, at least in the eyes of those involved in the transactions. Each criminal event is not going to be reported or even detected if the dealers have any sense, so the likelihood of punishment is extremely small.
The average organised career drug-dealer probably sees himself as just another businessman supplying goods in response to demand. If demand for illegal drugs plummets (as it would if drugs were legalised and regulated) then there isn't going to suddenly be another illegal commodity that will appear to take their place in the market, certainly not one that will be so demonstrably worth the risk. If these gangsters have guns kicking around left over from their wars for drug-dealing territory, I suppose it might be plausible that they turn to armed robbery or other crimes requiring intimidation, but this example and any other alternatives would be considerably more risky than their former lifestyle and would quickly be rejected by the vast majority.
The only potential growth area of criminality that might fit the drug smugglers skills and experience would be sex trafficking. With the legalisation of hard drugs there would be a considerable drop in the number of prostitutes working to manage their addictions. I do not know if this would suddenly cause an explosion of demand for new prostitutes, but it is possible. I would hope that the huge gap in moral acceptability between drug and sex-trafficking would be one that the organised criminals would not care to cross, but this is an eventuality which has to be anticipated. Certainly those police units formerly employed in combating the drug trade would be much more usefully employed preventing the rape and imprisonment of young women.
Desirable features of the post-prohibition environment:
Newly legal drugs should only be available from licensed pharmacies from pharmacists trained in the risks, safe use and possible side-effects of the available drugs.
A wide range of cannabis varieties should be available to allow users to choose their favourite experience and to ensure pockets of illegal trade do not survive to plug gaps in provision.
A cool-off period (a week?) should be initiated before a naïve customer can get heroin from a pharmacy. For all other drugs a naïve customer should be given educational material that should be read through before completion of the sale on top of safe use and risk information vocally provided by the pharmacist. Pharmacists should refuse customers suspected to be already under the influence of any drug or suspected to be buying either for another person or, in the case of naïve customers, following encouragement by another person.
Penalties for unlicensed supply should remain at current levels in an attempt to ensure that everyone receiving drugs gets the appropriate educational material and pharmacist advice.
To be considered:
All existing heroin and crack addicts be prescribed maintenance doses to immediately take the bottom out of the illegal market.
Amnesties for firearms and other offensive weapons on the end of prohibition. Paying the bearer of the weapon a reasonable price for the weapon might encourage cooperation.
If people formerly involved in the drugs trade want to go clean they may need help with issues such as CV preparation and employment, and psychological therapy. The state should aid with their transition into a non-criminal lifestyle. Some might be usefully employed in the manufacture of the newly legal drugs. Others might require assistance in presenting the business skills they have acquired as skills relevant to employment. Large gaps in employment history might be a problem that would need addressed.
The more help we can give to drug criminals to assist their integration into society, the less likely would be a turn to other crimes following the lifting of prohibition.
The end of prohibition should have major impacts on:
Numbers of children taken into care
Respect for the police
Foreign relations (Afghanistan and Latin America will be very happy)
Acquisitive crime and the fear of crime
Struggling urban communities
For more information the “Transform” blog is an excellent source.