Sunday, 30 May 2010

Heroin prescription can be a vaccine against a broken society

In the couple of days between the arrest and the charging of Stephen Griffiths this week I made desperate attempts to contact all 3 Bradford MPs, driven by the knowledge that I would struggle to forgive myself if the arrested man was not the killer and if further women were to die.

On reflection I am struggling to convince myself that I'm not partially responsible for their deaths anyway. I've known for over a year now how to prevent young women engaging in street prostitution to fund a drug habit, but in that year I have failed to effect change in our drug policies towards heroin and the poor people who find themselves needing to take it. It's not a happy place to be. But I can't imagine how it must feel to know the solution as I do, have considerably more power to effect the necessary change, but yet choose to say nothing for "political" reasons. Perhaps such people hold the same prejudices that they project onto the population and genuinely see the street prostitutes of the UK as not worth the hassle.

So to the solution. How do we stop young women dependent on heroin from working on the streets to pay for it? It's simple really. We look at the evidence on the most cost-effective way to treat their condition and we apply the solution that we know works. The results of the British trials of maintenance heroin have finally been published and they confirm the results from all of the other trials carried out in the last 10 years. Heroin works. Methadone is a poor second best.

If such disparity was demonstrated between the effectiveness of two drugs for any other medical condition - and the NHS continued to resist offering the more effective option - the sufferers, their families and friends would go nuts. In all likelihood the general population wouldn't be happy either.

Dependent drug users as a group on the other hand might struggle to summon the self-esteem, their families might struggle to break through the stigma and large sections of the population would quite likely express considerable revulsion at "their" taxes being spent on people who have "chosen" to take drugs.

Hang on a minute. If using heroin is a choice is smoking tobacco an innocent mistake? In the interest of consistency should we not cease the treatment of smokers for lung cancer, chronic pulmonary diseases, heart disease, stroke etc? Hmm, how long do we let them burgle, prostitute and generally make a nuisance of themselves to pay for their treatment privately before we decide to give them a chance on the NHS? And smoking is an educated choice. It says it's going to give you cancer on the bloody packet! Surely by Daily Mail comment contributor logic all the smokers visiting GPs saying "I have breathing difficulties" should be greeted with "Well Duh!" and shown the door. No drug dealer is going to last very long in the trade if he passes on similar health warnings to his clients. Imagine "Before you try your first hit I should say that heroin is an extremely physically addictive drug and with your economic and social situation as it is you will likely be considering prostituting yourself to feed your habit within a month." If heroin is a choice, then eating lots and sitting on the couch is a choice. Raising your blood pressure ranting at liberals who want to give junkies heroin on the NHS is a choice. To hate the prospect of heroin on the NHS is to hate the NHS itself and the assistance it gives to all those who need it regardless of colour, creed or the ill-advised choices that cause you to need it.

And it's not just the dependent user who benefits from prescription. Obviously the families of addicts would be saved considerable anguish. The children especially might not be removed by authorities now that the parents have chaotic money and drug-seeking removed from their daily routine. The parents might be able to hold their children as their number one priority.

The communities that dependent users live in might be spared the up to 80% of domestic burglaries that dependent users commit and the over 50% of acquisitive crimes in general. They might be spared the desperate sight of street prostitutes working in their neighbourhood.

Most importantly though, bringing a heroin addict into the care of the state removes a customer for the local dealers. The more problem drug users you treat, the less customers there are for the local dealers and the less viable their occupation. In many cases the dealer will themselves be dealing to fund a habit of their own. Give them prescribed heroin and the need to fund their habit in that way disappears. Give a whole heroin-using community prescribed heroin and the dealers who would seek to expand that community lose their livelihood and need to find something else to do with their time. Effective treatment of heroin addicts can end further recruitment of young people into that lifestyle. The risk of further daughters becoming drug-addicted street prostitutes becomes infinitessimal.

The debate on heroin prescription is currently centred around whether we should make it available as a second-line treatment for people who have failed to cease street heroin use while receiving methadone. The progressive goal here is really uninspiring though. There are tens of thousands of unemployed, vulnerable young people who are at risk of falling into the dependent user lifestyle. I believe we should make a concerted effort to block that path. I believe we should be identifying as many problem drug users as possible and giving them their drug of addiction for free (at least at first). Only then do we have an opportunity to end the culture of street heroin and its capacity to spread into another generation. It is utterly bizzarre that we should tolerate people stealing from us, prostituting themselves and trying to get our children hooked on heroin. We have to consider vaccinating our society to halt the spread of this menace.

We did nothing to improve the way in which we treat addiction after 5 addicts who worked as prostitutes were murdered in Ispwich in 2006. We have done nothing to halt the drug-related death rate doubling in Scotland over the last 10 years. Another 3 addicted women have now been murdered by a serial killer in Bradford. This is not the time to play catch-up with the progressive policies of our European neighbours. It is time to make up for lost time and innumerable lost lives. It is time to treat addicts with humanity, treat addiction as an illness, and credit the British people with the intelligence and the compassion to understand why such action is required.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Protecting Bradford's street prostitutes from a serial killer

A letter I have just written to David Ward (MP for Bradford East). If you can think of other people who could help with this effort, please forward this to them, link to this or use whatever means of communication you think would work.


Dear Mr. Ward,

As founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, I am hugely concerned at the unfolding events in your city as reported here on the BBC website and similarities to the serial murders carried out by Steven Wright in Ipswich in 2006.

In 2006 further young women working as prostitutes in the town were murdered after the possibility of there being a serial killer preying on prostitutes was reported in the news. There is a very real possibility that the man being questioned currently is not the murderer. It is therefore important for local police and other services to act quickly to ensure the safety of the women working the streets of Bradford. From the experience in Ipswich in 2006 it is clear that urging women to stay off the streets is not sufficient. I therefore call on you to contact the police in Bradford to propose that they work with health services to make available emergency prescribed maintenance doses of pharmaceutical heroin to any female dependent drug user in the city who is known to have worked the streets or that approaches services seeking help. It is quite possible that rapid action could save lives.


Ewan Hoyle

Founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

My conditions for cooperation. Yes drug policy IS that important.

These are the conditions I think we should demand be met by a potential coalition partner.

On electoral systems: Each party must guarantee at least a referendum on AV. A 3-option referendum including STV should be acceptable to Labour as I would hope they would be confident of arguing the case for the middle-ground option.
This referendum would of course have to be run using the AV/STV method.

Positions in a coalition cabinet: The one position of greatest importance is Home Secretary. It is the department in which policy has differed greatest between the other two parties and ourselves. It is the department in which Liberal Democrat power could undoubtedly improve our society whilst saving money on things like sentencing policy and effective crime prevention measures.

We should also have as a condition an impact assessment/enquiry into current drug policy. The potential savings to be made from moving to a sensible, evidence based control and regulation approach are immense. Controlling and regulating currently illegal drugs has the potential to save over £10Bn in criminal justice costs while at the same time reducing burglary rates by 80%, street prostitution by over 90% and drastically reducing the prison population. It is the area of policy where huge savings can be made while creating huge benefits to society.

If we are not to go the way of Greece, we need to find the policy options which save money while making people's lives better. Control and regulation of drugs is the most obvious of these.

I would also like to see movement towards our redistributive tax plans.

Ewan Hoyle.

Glasgow South

Founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform
Blogger at:

Friday, 7 May 2010

To share or to shaft?: The inherent unfairness of the "Big Society"

Over the last 24 hours or so, in a state of mildly delirious sleep-deprivation, I've been mulling over the implications of a potential conservative government. It has not been enjoyable.

I find myself in a position of being fairly desperate to help create something akin to the Tories' "Big Society" vision. Not because of all the wonderful incentives they might introduce, but because I'm pretty sure if we don't do everything ourselves, their rolling back of the State in our time of greatest need could quickly lead to a dystopian nightmare if we don't pull our sleeves up and get stuck in. Sadly, they would likely try to take the credit for this community co-operation. Maybe it was always their intention to utilise the fear of disaster that is rising in compassionate, liberal minds in bringing about the "Big Society". Why else would George Osbourne still be in line to be Chancellor after all?

I'm also reminded somewhat of the Prisoner's Dilemma psychological experiment:

Robert Kilroy-Silk's interpretation of the famous Prisoner's Dilemma psychological experiment

If we consider the application of the Prisoner's Dilemma to a post-aTorylyptic political environment with a small state and low taxes there are three scenarios that might arise.
The first scenario is that everybody shares. Everybody suddenly becomes voluntary enthusiastic participators in their community and the community benefits enormously.
In the second scenario everybody shafts. Essentially society sits back and expects someone else to do the work. This scenario would go tits-up pretty quickly.
It is the third scenario that is the most interesting however, and it is by far the more likely of the three to become a reality. In this scenario the more compassionate, caring, selfless, generous individuals donate their time and money to causes and services where they feel they can contribute. The other members of society (the lazy, greedy, mean-spirited types) choose not to contribute their time and money, and yet they enjoy all the services the generous citizens help provide, and accumulate greater wealth as a result of the lower taxation.

Low tax, low spend "Big Societies" have inherent within them a financial incentive to be a greedy parasite upon society. If national insurance contributions are a "Jobs Tax" then the Big Society is a tax on generosity, compassion and general goodness. It is grossly unfair.

I wish we could find a way to make the mean-spirited, greedy people pay more, but the more that public services are funded by taxpayers and not charitable individuals, the more we can at least say they are paying their fair share.