Sunday, 25 April 2010

A letter to the Herald on Glasgow's heroin problem and it's ties to prostitution.

David Pratt asks in Friday's Herald "How can we stem the tide of heroin flooding our streets?" He also seeks to "starve the Taliban of their financial lifeblood." Up to 50% of Taliban income comes from the opium trade, and Western governments can most easily end this funding by making heroin available for supervised consumption in clinics as is being done in a growing number of European states. All the evidence from overseas and from UK pilot studies suggests that this course of action will reduce the acquisitive crime, drug dealing and prostitution that addicts engage in to fund their drug use and reduce the number of young people encountering - and becoming addicted to - heroin.

Provision of pharmaceutical heroin to addicts would also clear the way for the criminalisation of those men who choose to pay for sex. In Thursday's Herald Anne Johnstone called for the Scottish Parliament to follow the lead taken by Norway and Sweden on this issue. Her assertion that "Demand dictates Supply" is sadly a dangerous oversimplification. As I expect the coming Five Daughters drama will show, heroin addicts who choose to engage in prostitution do so because they need to find hundreds of pounds each week to hold off the intolerable pain of withdrawal. Reducing demand for their services won't suddenly make withdrawal more tolerable. Rather those who persist in trying to fund their heroin habit through prostitution will likely have to lower prices, seek more customers, and - perhaps most importantly - be less choosy and more hasty when negotiating with clients. Combined with the likelihood of persisting clients being at the end of the character spectrum that has least respect for the law, I can only foresee addicted prostitutes being at greater risk of meeting the same fate as the Five Daughters whose stories will be told on our screens in the coming days.

Should women cease trying to fund their drug use through prostitution as I presume Anne Johnstone would welcome, they may in desperation turn to acquisitive crime or dealing, which arguably have even greater negative impacts upon our society.

With problem drug users making up approximately 95% of street prostitutes, the prescribed heroin solution has the potential to allow the vast majority of street prostitutes to leave prostitution and crime behind them and try to get their lives back on track. If we want to eliminate street prostitution from our towns and cities then we would do better to tackle supply of prostitutes rather than further endanger these desperate young women by an albeit well-meaning attack on demand.

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