By Kenneth Eckersely
Re-Launched in January 2003, the Home office Minister’s “Updated Drug Strategy 2002” leaves nothing to be desired — except for an effective policy of real prevention capable of reducing the escalating numbers of new users, plus the provision of effective treatment intended to to cure dependent users. In other words what missing is a Drug Strategy intended to break the vicious circle of more and more of our citizen’s using more and more drugs of all classes.
Nearly every measure,- which Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth very ably presented this week is capable of achieving what the whole country needs and wants, Unfortunately his Department has, produced a magnificent vehicle which will never get us to where we need to go, because the driver that the Departments of Education and Health have permitted to grab the steering wheel is not dedicated to reaching the same goals as the government.
Vested interests in the psycho-pharmacological field have been dictating the direction of our drugs education and the nature of our drug treatment for decades. Therefore, whilst the increased spending and personnel resources now being, committed by New Labour are essential to success, they are a total waste because their strategy vehicle is being directed along the road of greater profit to the counselling and pharmacological fraternity instead of along the road towards less drug use and less drug users.
Whilst it was reassuring to hear the Minister announce that it would never be the policy of this government to legalise any currently illicit drug the value of that statement was immediately destroyed by his decision to prescribe heroin alongside Methadone for issue at taxpayer expense to the expanding group of dependent drug users. As a result whilst not legalising these drugs, he is in fact legalising individual addicts to use them. And because those recipients of governments largesse will no longer be breaking the law, reported crime statistics will appear to fall but user statistics will continue to climb.
Making a drug legally available to an individual does not by one iota change its effect on that individual. He or she is still a hard core drug user. The authoritative BIG ISSUE research ‘Drugs at the Sharp End’ showed that 89% of such users are still basically unemployable and that their main legitimate income is from Unemployment Benefit and/or Housing and Children’s Allowances. Furthermore, far from reducing drug use and crime, that report revealed that 8O% of those on prescribed methadone continued to use street drugs on a weekly basis and that 44% of those on prescribed methadone used heroin on a daily basis.
One assumes that the new strategic move to also prescribe heroin is intended to avoid methadone users continuing with the illegal use of Street heroin. But is the Home Office not aware of the illegal street trade in prescribed methadone? Do they really believe that prescribed heroin will not also find its way back to the street as prescription users seek to enhance their, low income levels by selling “guaranteed pure government issue heroin” just as occurs with taxpayer supplied methadone.
If one concentrates only on opiate supply issues, the only way government can squeeze out the drug barons is by making the official prescription supply more plentiful, less costly and less dangerous than the smuggled supply.
The barons will respond with purer and even cheaper supplies and the overall effect will be a flooding of the market place with more accessible, stronger and cheaper supplies stimulating even greater usage as the illegal and legal suppliers battle for their market shares.
This is why aiming at the supply alone can never in the long run be an effective policy. The target should of course be demand. Regrettably this is not reduced by prescription supply. It is cut only by curing existing users of their habit and by preventing new users from entering the marketplace.
Whilst the Updated Strategy will pump more resources into the sort of ‘treatment’ which merely manages escalating prescribed drug use – the extra resources which will go into our school system will go mainly into drugs education not drug prevention.. This raises the question which lesson you would want your child to learn ? ‘I know all about drugs now dad’, (education) or would you prefer ‘I don’t use any drugs dad’ (prevention).
The 6 – 11 age group uses less than one fifth of the drugs used by the 12 – 17 age group, 30% of whom use with increasing regularity, and it is these usage and age levels which make a mockery of the new strategy’s ‘drugs education’ proposals which are replete with ‘harm reduction’, ‘informed choice’, and ‘responsible use’ messages. Such messages are likely valid when addressing an established user or addict. i.e. when it is part of ‘we don’t want to run your life for you, but we would like you to have a long one’. So we apply harm reduction by giving the heroin user a clean needle because we don’t want him catching AIDS, and we teach him responsible use to make sure he doesn’t overdose.
But it is quite something else to an 11-to -14 year old who is just beginning to learn about drugs; ‘This is how you use drugs responsibly’ or, ‘You will come to less harm when you’re taking drugs if you do’….. or, ‘So you can find what drug might suit you best, here are the various choices and their effects.
Less than 25% of our school children in the 5 to 18 year age range use drugs (mainly cannabis) on a regular basis ‘THIS MEANS THAT 75% DO NOT USE DRUGS, and to guard against their joining the use group, the principal message for that whole range of ages should be a PREVENTION message based on zero tolerance. Every ‘Say NO to Drugs’ campaign run in Britain has demonstrably saved children totally from drug use or has postponed early city to our drug culture.
It is because ‘Just say NO and similar campaigns have worked that such zero-tolerance campaigns have been attacked by pushers and the inevitable libertarian or psychologist who believes that if child wants to put his hand on a hot stove, he should be given the freedom to do so, in order that he may learn from his own experience.
Bob Ainsworth twice expressed real concern because prisoners re-entering society after completing their sentences continue to a disturbing degree to overdose on drugs within the first weeks of their release, However, he (failed utterly to recognise that even though many of these released offenders had been subjected to rehabilitation in prison, THEY WERE NOT CURED, proving that the psycho-pharmacological treatments they received inside just do not work, and that what Sweden (for example) does should be tried. He was warm in his praise of those who had put together the Updated Strategy, and it was clear that a lot of good administrative and promotional work had been done by dedicated people within the Home Office and elsewhere. However, when it came to the vital technology of drug prevention and cures the Drug Strategy showed no real understanding of just how far his department has been misled by the vested interests who today essentially control drugs ‘education’ and drug treatment through lobbying front organisations like DrugScope, and the sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists who run our health and education departments.
These are the people who, by prescription, are pushing psycho-pharmacological drugs such as Ritalin into our classrooms. These are the same people who are pushing the benzodiazepines into nursing homes, care homes, private homes and prisons and now they are pushing heroin and methadone into our drug using youth instead of curing them of their addiction problems – as other countries do.
Addiction is a golden goose which already provides huge profits for prescription drug producers and with heroin now set to go on prescription, pharmaceutical fat cats are all set to get even fatter at taxpayer expense. The now proposed ‘legalisation by prescription’ will do two things, firstly, it will increase the supply of opiates into the society and, secondly, it will increasingly place the production and supply of currently illegal drugs into the self proclaimed “ethical” of the pharmaceutical industry. (How long before we have the prescription supply of cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines and crack?) Thirdly, the brand of permissive drugs ‘education’ proposed, which fails to prevent and fails to ‘Say NO’, -will ensure that an increasing number of new drug users are created every day. Fourthly, many questioners at the re-launch of the Updated Strategy were clearly having trouble with understanding why the government were not taking more advantage of existing law governing teenage illegal use of both tobacco and alcohol to close off the two main legal gateways to cannabis use.
Surveys show that cigarette smoking is a principal gateway to youth usage of cannabis, and that (like drinking of alcohol) may be an even more significant gateway. Whilst both of these substances are on sale to adults, they are both just as illegal as cannabis when it comes to their purchase and use by most of our population under l8 years of age. In addition to the obvious physical and mental effects, failing to stop adolescent illegal use of tobacco and alcohol moves our junior and teenage youth onto the wrong side of the law – namely the same outlaw side, as the use of cannabis.
As a result the move to cannabis is seen by our youth as no more significant in law breaking terms than a pint and a fag.
Our children are under greater attack than any other sector of our society, but the “Updated Drug Strategy 2002” does more to provide doubtful ‘support’ and ‘treatment’ after they’ve been hit, than it does to protect them with up front zero tolerance prevention, followed if necessary by cures based on comfortable abstinence for life.
It used to be known as ‘closing the stable door after the horse had gone’. Fortunately, provided the government can get out from under the control of the pharmaceutical lobby, a realistic updating of our Just ‘updated drug strategy 20O2’ might just get the horse back