Legalising heroin would cost the NHS and damage the UK
The siren call for drug legalisation sounds again. This time it issues from Mike Barton, the Chief Constable of Durham. The NHS should be used to supply addicts, Class A drugs should be legalised and drugs “prohibition” must be ended, he advises. It is a solution loved by top police officers and is no doubt borne out of a sense of frustration at the apparent intractability of drug-infected gangland crime.
It seems so seductively simple. Except it is not. Mr Barton is at the coalface of a drugs policy regime that is paying a high price for its liberality. It is a confusing place to be: officers are expected to give clean needles to the addicts they should be arresting. Prohibitive it is not. The UK citizen is more likely to be convicted for defaulting on his TV licence than for possessing and using illegal drugs.
Muddled thinking follows muddled practice. Much as the Chief Constable would like it otherwise, an addict is no more likely to be transformed by being sent to the doctor for his daily fix than than a legal market would put his supplier out of business.
The system Mr Barton suggests is already in place. The NHS spends £1 billion a year supplying the Class A synthetic opiate methadone to 150,000 addicts. Replacing methadone with heroin would put it up by several more billion. Mr Barton might stomach this cost, but I doubt a British public waiting for hip, heart and cancer operations would.
Improved health and reduced crime outcomes are overestimated. The “safe” (heroin is anything but safe) injecting sites integral to this policy — at least one for every market town and city centre — would not even sanitise the problem, let alone solve it. That is the experience of countries that have tried it.
Vancouver’s InSite programme is far from living up to its promises to reduce the spread of HIV, get clients into treatment and off drugs, or cut deaths from overdosing. It’s a policing problem in itself. Here in this country addicts on expensive NHS-funded opiate-prescribing trials were given daily injections and intensive nurse supervision, but still stayed street-drug dependent and continued to commit crime. That is the nature of addiction: addicts always want more.
The legal supply of heroin would no more undercut illicit demand than sate addicts’ desire. It would encourage drug tourism, black-market dealing (by adding to the supply) and the gangland crime that Mr Barton want to escape .
Supply without sanction feeds demand, which in turn feeds rates of use and, inevitably, harm.
Kathy Gyngell is a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies
Source: The Times 28th September 2013