Examination of Witnesses: (Questions 120
TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2001
120. Am I not right that the traffickers are
about the last people to want any change in policy? Would that
not be the position?
(Keith Hellawell) Not necessarily at all. The traffickers
in legal substances such as cigarettes are increasing their trade
because of the difference in balances of taxation in different
countries. There is a wholly legal subject which is very highly
lucrative. I find on some of the borders in Eastern and Central
Europe that people are bringing cigarettes now through those borders
because there are fewer penalties than there are for drugs and
the benefits are as great because of the differences in taxation.
121. Are you telling us that traffickers in
drugs would be perfectly satisfied if the whole thing became legalised?
Are you really telling us that?
(Keith Hellawell) Only if the whole thing became legalised,
that everybody of whatever age, of whatever status could have
access to any substance they chose to experiment with or use,
do you take away the illegal market.
122. Whatever the arguments for or against legalisation
or decriminalisation, whatever words one wants to use for any
change in the law, is it not a fact that drug trafficking is causing
the maximum amount of criminal activity at the moment and it could
be ended along the lines of decriminalisation or legalisation
as the case may be?
(Keith Hellawell) I would not say that. Drug trafficking
is one product on the international criminal agenda. The activities
we have not talked about at all in which we are involved beyond
these shores are beginning to make an impact on the availability
of drugs in this country. The greater involvement with our EU
colleagues and applicant nations in relation to heroin is going
to make a bigger impact.
123. I agree with you, Chairman. Listening to
this I was getting quite concerned that Ministers were never given
any radical options. 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. One point about impure heroin. For the benefit of the Committee
could Mr Hellawell just remind people how many people died in
Scotland from that impure heroin and roughly how that compares
with the number of normal deaths from heroin overdoses in any
(Keith Hellawell) Someone can give you the figures.
(Rosemary Jenkins) There were 59 deaths from the contaminated
heroin, mainly in Scotland although there were a few in England.
There are just over 3,000 drug related deaths but those connected
purely with opiates are round about 1,500.
124. So 1,500 in a normal year and 59 just in
this one case in Scotland.
(Rosemary Jenkins) Yes, that is right. That was recognised
by everybody as a severe but isolated outbreak which was dealt
with very rapidly.
(Vic Hogg) May I take the opportunity to correct what
may be a misunderstanding about what happened in 1970 with regard
to diamorphine prescribing? It was actually 1968 when the regulations
changed but there was no ban on diamorphine prescribing for heroin
addicts. What happened was that the system was made subject to
a licensing arrangement which is operated by the Home Office.
The figure has remained fairly constant at around about 120 doctors
who are licensed to prescribe diamorphine to addicts specifically.
The licences are free, there is no quota. The arrangement simply
needs the agreement of the local medical expert and a licence
is given. That should not have had a dramatic impact on the ability
where appropriate for heroin addicts to get diamorphine prescribed
where that was considered to be medically appropriate.
125. Do you have evidence of registered heroin
addicts on drug programmes being prescribed methadone and an increase
in the sale of methadone for them then to go and buy heroin on
the black market? Are there any facts and figures you can provide
(Keith Hellawell) I do not know facts and figures,
but certainly we were concerned about the slippage through systems.
Over the last three years with the aid of the pharmaceutical industry,
the pharmacists and treatment agencies, we have very much tightened
up through doctors with some new clinical guidelines we have given
them on the amount they should prescribe, but normally they would
prescribe it, and circumstances in which people are taking their
daily dose actually in the chemist's shop. That has reduced the
slippage into the open market.
126. In written information you want to give
us about decriminalisation I think it would be important to address
the legalisation aspect because that is what some of it refers
(Sue Killen) May I just say that my view would be
that legalisation would result in increased usage and that is
probably a view which is generally held. If it is legal, more
people are likely to take it.
127. That would perhaps need us to receive some
analysis from you. Obviously there are arguments the other way
and some of those things we have discussed today. Yes, there are
arguments both ways that we can see.
(Sue Killen) The way you reduce addictive behaviour
is to get people into effective treatment and deal with the addiction
that is there.
128. Then there would not be the same marketplace
out there. We would want some evidence of that. What does the
Government plan to do to improve the evidence base on which drugs
policy is grounded?
(Sue Killen) We are constantly improving the evidence
base. Pre-1998 one of the problems there was that we did not have
a systematic research programme on drugs and we have had to build
that up. It has looked in two areas really: more and more emphasis
on what works, what is really effective so that we can put that
into use; at the same time, developing trend data so that we can
analyse what is effective and look at whether our policies are
working or not. I have a list. Research priorities for the future.
We are going to look at this as part of the stock-taking review,
the spending review. So we shall look at research alongside everything
else we are reviewing. The priorities they have listed are: to
commission larger scale surveys so that we are able to detect
smaller changes in drug use and improve our accuracy. On a lot
of things we pick up that there is a change here but we do not
really know what underpins it and we need to know far more about
that so we need to build up the surveys we are doing. We need
to develop the existing methodology for estimating the extent
of drugs consumption in Britain. We need to understand what more
is going on behind this. We need to look at those drug users not
successfully engaged or retained by treatment, the ones we are
failing with and support the National Treatment Agency in identifying
ways of addressing this group. We need to identify what works
with regard to local drug markets and regional drug markets. We
have not really talked much today about the devastating effect
on communities and the multi-faceted problems we have in trying
to tackle those which drugs markets create, but we need to do
more about that We also need to look with regard to drugs education
in British schools; we talked about the blueprint programme but
we need to build up on that. We need to gain a better understanding
of initiation into drug use. We talked about the gateway effect
and lots of other things. We need to understand far more why some
people get addicted, why they get involved in drugs in the first
129. Do you have any plans for research into
what the effect of doing away with prohibition would be? Do you
know of any such research? Obviously not.
(Sue Killen) All I could say is that it is not in
the list I have before me.
130. Do you think this is an area we ought at
least to be addressing somewhere along the line?
(Sue Killen) I would say what I said earlier on which
was that the emphasis of the work we are doing is on looking at
trying to find out what works so we have an effective strategy
which reduces the numbers of people who have abusive problems
and it reduces the harm drugs cause. If the agenda there is set
by Nick Davies and therefore work we shall be doing with Paul
on guidance for heroin prescribing, on looking at how we can be
more effective in treatment, if that is part of that then yes,
we are definitely doing it.
131. Do not get too hooked on Nick Davies. You
and I both know that he is articulating arguments which are quite
widely abroad and shared by a number of senior police officers
to name but a few. I do not say whether they are right or wrong,
but one of the purposes of this inquiry is to arrive at some conclusions
about that and we need your help quite urgently.
(Sue Killen) Absolutely. I would just emphasise one
thing. Somebody said that we do not give radical options to Ministers.
We might not be explaining our position particularly effectively,
but that emphasis on trying to find out what works and looking
at all the various options is absolutely crucial.
132. I would agree that emphasis is right, but
it is also important that you are able to address the alternatives.
Even though many of us may think that they are perhaps not the
right alternatives, those alternatives keep being put forward
and you should be able to address them in some detail and therefore
you need that evidence base to be able to do that.
(Sue Killen) One of the problems you will have on
an evidence base on decriminalisation and legalisation is that
it will always be speculative. What we do not have is a control
where we can point. I may be overdefending myself again but that
is why I think we need to concentrate on what works and what will
be really effective and share best practice on what does actually
(Keith Hellawell) There is a caveat on that. It is
important that the Committee reads the conclusions of what happened
in Alaska. We do have a control though it is only in relation
to cannabis. One of the researchers described it as an unmitigated
disaster. I would feel that you do need to have evidence. We do
have an eight or nine-year period of legalisation of one drug
and the consequences on health and other things are well researched.
Chairman: These are good points. Our problem
is that this time next week we have Mr Davies and a number of
other people who share his views coming to see us. So we need
some robust arguments to put to him. We should be most grateful
for your assistance, in good time, that is to say by close of
business on Thursday. It should be something you are almost able
to do off the top of your heads because you know what all the
arguments are. Take a few of the key assertions, quote them accurately
and then rebut them, if that is what you want to do. Where something
is uncertain, say it is uncertain and maybe more research is needed.
133. It is a challenge. Who is going to have
the high moral ground, you or those who want to change the law?
It is quite a challenge, is it not?
(Sue Killen) Our total interest is in making sure
we know what works and listening to arguments from anybody in
order to develop that. We will absolutely look at what more evidence
we can give you and I would emphasise that it does not stop there.
We are likely to get more stuff from York University which we
can let you have. I would have hoped that we could have a reasonably
open relationship with the Clerk to provide you with more information
that you might need at various point.
Chairman: Of course. At any time during the
course of the inquiry. But between now and the close of business
on Thursdayliaise with the Clerk for more detailsa
short paper rebutting the key arguments made by those who want
legalisation or decriminalisation, whatever you wish to call it,
would be most helpful. On that note, thank you all very much for
coming. I am sorry to have put you through such an ordeal over
the last two and a half hours. We look forward to seeing you again.