Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Drug Prohibition Under Fire by UK Politicians

Last week, ex UK Home Office Minister, Bob Ainsworth, proposed that illicit drugs either be prescribed by doctors or sold under licence in the UK. Bob Ainsworth is one the highest profile UK politicians to publicly announce his support for drug legalisation. 

After 50 years of global drug prohibition it is time for governments throughout the world to repeat this shift with currently illegal drugs.

We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs.

Politicians and the media need to engage in a genuine and grown up debate about alternatives to prohibition, so that we can build a consensus based on delivering the best outcomes for our children and communities.

Prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit.

Crime Prevention Minister, James Brokenshire was quick to reject Bob Ainsworth’s comments. He rattled on about drugs being harmful and that they ruin lives etc. but it was all just the usual dribble you would expect. He even went as far as saying that decriminalisation is a simplistic solution and “Legalisation fails to address the reasons people misuse drugs in the first place or the misery, cost and lost opportunities that dependence causes individuals, their families and the wider community”. You have to wonder why he thinks that sending addicts to prison is going to address these problems especially considering we have been doing this vigorously for half a century.

Ironically, current UK PM, David Cameron once supported the principles as Ainsworth including a study into prescribed heroin, downgrading ecstasy from Class A to Class B, as well as moveing towards a policy of Harm Reduction.

We recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways-including the possibility of legalization and regulation-to tackle the global drugs dilemma.

David Cameron is infamous for not denying he used cocaine and cannabis in his youth and was even caught using drugs at school. But like most politicians, the need to further his career meant renouncing previous ideals and towing the party line.

When you look back 40 years, 40 years ago there were a few hundred heroin addicts who had their heroin prescribed by a doctor. There are now 50,000-60,000 registered addicts creating an enormous amount of crime. It would be very disturbing if some radical options were not at least looked at. We are now getting into that and it would be interesting to see what you come back with.

Bob Ainsworth’s comments have stirred up much debate in the UK especially since the announcement of a new drug strategy from the UK government. These new proposals have been slammed as regressive and a move in the wrong direction. Under one of the new proposals, ministers will not be required to seek the advice of scientists when making drug related decisions or policy. Another planned proposal is to remove social security benefits from drug users who do not seek treatment. And there is to be an increased focus on stopping supply. Again, a government fails to take on evidence and expert advice, instead opting for just more of the same old useless "War on Drugs" tactics.

The government says that this new strategy will put more responsibility on addicts to seek treatment. Those who don’t act on the government’s guidelines will lose their social security benefits or suffer other punishments. Sadly, it reeks of conservative ideology where “personal responsibility” is king,  Forget compassion and medical reasoning, junkies deserve what they get. Forget the latest research. The fact is, although many addicts will finally kick their habit, many will not. Those who don’t respond to conventional treatment are often born with a predisposition for opiate addiction e.g. an imbalance in their brain's chemistry, some of the 66 known genes that promote the need for opiates, a persistent impairment of synaptic plasticity in a key structure of the brain etc. This drives them to seek out a cure which usually ends with heroin use. It may be impossible for some people to comprehend but this small group of addicts have a physical problem and are not simply selfish losers with no will power. If the government bothered to read the advice given to them from medical experts, they would know this. I dare say they actually do but it’s easier and more popular to punish these people or exploit the “personal responsibility” tactic.

It’s probably no surprise that the government is critical of Bob Ainsworth’s comments when they are prepared to introduce such a backward strategy.

Although some politicians and anti-drug zealots have been quick to reject Bob Ainsworth’s comments, there has also been a lot of support. 

This could be a turning point in the failing UK ‘war on drugs.’ Bob Ainsworth is the persuasive, respected voice of the many whose views have been silenced by the demands of ministerial office. Every open rational debate concludes that the UK’s harsh drugs prohibition has delivered the worst outcomes in Europe – deaths, drug crime and billions of pounds wasted.
--Labour’s Paul Flynn MP, Founder Council Member of the British Medicinal Cannabis Register

Prof. David Nutt, the former chief adviser to the government on drugs (AMCD), made the most sense. According to the BBC, he said that most MPs actually agree with Mr Ainsworth, but feel they cannot say so publicly because of "the pressure of politics”.

The current approach to drugs has been an expensive failure, and for the sake of everyone, and the young in particular, it is time for all politicians to stop using the issue as a political football. I have long advocated breaking the link between soft and hard drugs – by legalising cannabis while continuing to prohibit hard drugs.   But I support Bob Ainsworth’s sensible call for a proper, evidence based review, comparing the pros and cons of the current prohibitionist approach with all the alternatives, including wider decriminalisation, and legal regulation.
--Peter Lilley MP, former Conservative Party Deputy Leader

The Labour Party was also quick to distance themselves from Ainsworth’s comments and party leader, Ed Miliband, called them, “irresponsible”. This was just more of the mass stupidity on display from UK politicians as flimsy and tired old excuses were rolled out once again. It was only a handful of brave pollies who finally stood up and backed Ainsworth. Luckily, attitudes are changing and defending a failed, useless drug policy no longer automatically wins the public’s support.

Liberal Democrats have long called for a science-based approach to our drugs problem. So it is without hesitation that I support Bob Ainsworth’s appeal to end party political point-scoring, and explore sensitively all the options, through an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
--Tom Brake MP, Co-Chair, Liberal Democrat Backbench Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities

The comments from Bob Ainsworth have showed us that attitudes are changing away from maintaining the current "War on Drugs" approach. There are dozens of articles every day in the global media that expose the failure of current drug policies. And like all major issues, the last to act are politicians. Ainsworth’s comments come at the beginning of a new era where politicians will gradually admit their opposition to current drug policies. Politicians like Ron Paul in the US, who were once seen as radical for opposing the drug war will soon appear as visionaries. Hardliners pushing for Zero Tolerance policies will become marginalised as governments look to blame someone for the fallout of a failed policy. 

We've got so used to 40 years of prohibition which, in my experience of over 30 years of policing, has led to massive cost, a failure to achieve the primary aims, which is the reduction of drug use, and a range of unintended harmful consequences
--Tom Lloyd: Former Chief Constable Of Cambridgeshire Police

History will not be kind to those who snubbed science and research, especially in the UK. For many years, the UK listened to it’s doctors and stood it’s ground by rejecting the UN/US attempt to ban prescribing heroin to addicts. But recent governments have swapped this tradition to participate in the drug war. The UK once utilised it’s medical expertise to form sound and appropriate health strategies but since the 1970s, we have seen the slow death of evidence and research dictating health and drug policies. Technically, licensed doctors can still prescribe heroin to addicts with about 400 people still receiving their dose each week. A recent study into expanding this practice like the pre-1970s, hi-lighted how successful prescription heroin really is. Add to this the Prof. Nutt debacle and the proposal to make drug related decisions without consultation with the AMCD and you have a political process that is in stark contrast to the UK that was once based on compassion and medical expertise. Politicians have a lot to answer for.

Bob Ainsworth and David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance discuss the link between drugs and crime.

On a lighter note, you know when David Raynes becomes involved, you have probably won the argument.  David Raynes is part of the anti-drug network consisting of nutters from all over the world. Their arguments are as flimsy and flawed as one would expect from fanaticals or fundamentalists. They are the “Drug Free” crowd who still believe that we can rid the world of drugs and anything but a Zero Tolerance policy is not acceptable. 

David Raynes himself is a disgraced former customs officer who is notorious for his anti-drug comments that defy logic and his links to Narconon. How he got to be interviewed by the BBC is beyond me. Maybe it’s part of their comedy programming?


Gledwood said...

I don't think anything is going to change.

Drug treatmenthas become lower priority since the Tory Govt came in slashing left right and centre, doing all the stuff they'd dearly have loved to have done but wouldn't be able to in normal circumstances without a financial crisis as excuse.

I was talking in the drug clinic privately and off the record to a worker last week about how shit I think methadone is. She told me she thinks a lot of this using on top is psychological and I thought afterwards, hang on a sec I could use the TINIEST bit of gear IV on top of 80, 90mg methadone and it WHOOSHED right in filling all the huge spaces methadone had left untouched, so that's patently bullshit. But they want to believe this crap. The number of times I've been told it "should" be doing this or that, when it just doesn't.

And being told I'm on high dose methadone when I'm not even 150mg. I shot the dr right down with that one by quoting how many milligrams of diamorphine I used to take regularly for years on end, a good 300-600 a day, over 1000mg some days ~ and quoting equivalence tables that gave 1mg to 1mg at the highest and 1mg methadone to 4mg diamorphine at the lowest. So this "your dose is so high" crap is just that, utter bullshit. And it felt so good to demolish an argument with one verbal karate chop!

Great blog, as ever :-)

Gledwood said...

Do you know the worst thing about diamorphine therapy? They make it such an arcane treatment and so hard-won that no junkie with half a brain is going to want to reduce too much, let alone come off the stuff, once they get it. The only way prescription diamorphine will work to the benefit of addicts is if it can be given automatically, if you can up a dose without arguments as well as lowering it, and if you do come off altogether and relapse, they let you straight back on. If they don't do that, they're going to end up with a lot of long term druggies on those schemes who just aren't going to want to come off, because they think they'll never get it back, and have the curse of methadone and spending every spare penny using on top, as most terminal junkies do. Often for many, many years on end.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks for your comments Gleds.

You make some very valid points.

The pharmacotherapist won't increase my morphine an extra 100mg because he says it's too high of a dose. Yet doctors are free to prescribe methadone without a limit. The equivalent to my old methadone dose (120ml) is 1.2 grams of morphine but I would never be allowed this because they say it's too high. There are plenty of people on 200ml+ of methadone and this is somehow OK. Yet when it comes to morphine, they won't match the high dose.

As for prescription heroin(diamorphine), the rules are just too strict. Like you pointed out, patients would fear the loss of their spot on the program if they kick the habit. Also reducing their dose would mean they can not instantly increase it when the need arises. This is how it works in the real world.

I received an email from someone in Canada who said it is near impossible to get on the heroin trials unless you're homeless. This guarantees the trials will be successful.

Thanks again Gleds.