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.