Monday, 28 September 2009

Where is the junkie rights movement?

I've just finished watching the movie "Milk" and I'm wondering where the junkie rights movement is. Addicts don't choose to be addicts. They are just people who were sad, bored or ignorant at one point in their lives, made a really bad decision and found themselves imprisoned in an addiction from which they find it impossible to escape. Homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, but addiction is. There's no way you can imagine a crowd marching down the street singing "Say it loud, I'm a junkie and I'm proud." Heroin and crack are illegal for starters, but I suspect it's not the addiction that is the source of shame. Prohibition is compelling these people to go against their moral values and break social taboos by stealing and prostituting every day of their lives. How could they not feel shame? How would you feel if you had to steal or sell your body every day of your life to fend off great physical or emotional pain? Addicts are living that life every day. No wonder they seek escape in their next fix. If I were living like that every minute of sobriety would gnaw away at my conscience.

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... 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.

Er, we could do with that cocaine over here thanks.

So the British navy have just intercepted a fishing vessel carrying £240m worth of cocaine and have handed the stash over to the US


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

Taxpayer's alliance utterly abandons the interest of taxpayers on heroin prescription issue.

The taxpayers alliance aren't representing me with this article. Are they representing you?

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

Lib Dems should urgently grasp the drugs nettle

With The Observer editorial and contributors calling for reform of drug policy over the last couple of weeks and The Independent yesterday announcing the resounding success of heroin prescription experiments, the time is right for the Liberal Democrats to rethink their approach to drugs policy for the next election.
In 2002 The Observer published a poll that suggested that 2% of the population believed heroin should be legalised or decriminalised. In August of this year, a survey by PoliticsHome suggested 19% of the population supported legalisation of all currently illegal drugs, and over half the population supported legalising some of the currently illegal drugs. It appears attitudes to prohibition are changing, and changing fast. Our current policy was formulated in 2002. If it took popular opinion into account at that time, these polls suggest that popular opinion has moved on, and so should we.
We have the opportunity to lead public opinion on this issue. We can revive faith in politics by presenting intelligent policies for the good of the people and then try persuading them to vote in their best interest. While Labour and the Tories pander to the loudest man in their focus group sessions, we can show that we have the courage to stand up, tell the truth about the policies we need, and lead.
Below is the text of the flier for the only drugs policy fringe event at the coming conference. If you want to contribute to the debate, please come along.

Sunday, 20th 18.15 - 19.30
Bournemouth International Centre (BIC),
Durley Suite

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?

Useful links:
Transform website:
Leaked drugs report:
Recent Pro-legalisation articles in:
The Times:
The Financial Times:
The Independent:
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

A solution to our drink and drug problem?

Just as sometimes it is necessary to be cruel to be kind, on the issue of drug and alcohol abuse, I feel it may be necessary to be illiberal to be liberal. In the run-up to my presentation at the fringe event "What can be gained from thoughtful drug policy reform?" I have been struggling with the question of how to regulate the sale of drugs. I have to balance the goals of keeping drugs away from children, eliminating illegal markets, protecting our European neighbours from hard drugs from our cheap, legal market, discouraging drug tourism and presenting a regime that would be acceptable to British voters.

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.