Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. Would you not be happy if she did not take it?
  (Mr Davies) I am afraid she will. Therefore, I want you to make it safe for her. How can I stop her? Should I tie her up and never let her out?

  181. It is the same way, speaking as a parent, that you would expect to try and influence your child not to smoke, not to engage in alcohol abuse.
  (Mr Davies) There are two million parents a weekend failing. We, collectively, the press and politicians, are making it lethal. Those kids may know and understand why they are taking it but they do not know what is in that pill.

Angela Watkinson

  182. I would like to challenge Nick Davies' statement that heroin is harmless. I think you said it twice. Does not the fact that it is addictive, which means the user is unable to lead a normal life and to function normally without it, mean that it is harmful per se; and the fact they find themselves in need of NHS treatment to treat their addition means that it is harmful to the wider community because that treatment is a further burden on the NHS? Should not Government policy be focused on treating people who are already addicted but on deterring others from ever starting to take drugs in the first place because they are harmful?
  (Mr Davies) You are attacking a statement I have not made. I said in the television programme and the newspaper heroin is very addictive, and that is a very good reason not to use it.

  183. You also said it was harmless.
  (Mr Davies) Let me tell you what I said and you will find I am right. Heroin does not damage the mind or body of its users.

  184. I will challenge you on that.
  (Mr Davies) I thought there was a fascinating concession, a quiet concession, in the memo put in by the Home Office last week. If you look at the Orange Book, the 1999 Prescribing Guidelines which were produced with the Home Office and the Department of Health, this is what they said about heroin, that it would produce the following: "Viral hepatitis, bacterial endocarditis, HIV, tuberculosis, septicaemia, pneumonia, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary emboli, abscesses and dental disease", official government line. What is wrong about that I said in this Guardian story—it is all true of the black market drug; none of it is true of the drug itself and I am talking about heroin. Put yourself in the shoes of the poor Home Office official who was asked last week to produce this memo and look at what he said. He said nothing of that list—it ain't there. He said: "The adverse physical effects of heroin are limited", and then he goes on to talk about two things but none of that; it has gone. There is a quiet concession there which I never thought in my lifetime I would see the Home Office make. They dropped it. They stopped pretending that heroin damages the mind and body of its user. There are, however, two serious things to be considered: one is addiction; and the other is respiratory depression—that is the most dangerous thing about heroin. If you take enough of it you can depress your breathing. This is not my evidence; this is the evidence of cancer doctors and research papers I put into those stories. The gap between the therapeutic dose of heroin and the fatal dose, i.e. when breathing is depressed to the point of death, is wide. Which is why one of the most experienced cancer doctors I could find described it as a "very safe drug". This not flimsy little Nick Davies saying this; this is the most experienced morphine and diamorphine practitioner in this country. You are not challenging me; you are challenging them. I beg to insist that they know what they are talking about, and it is time for people like you to drop your presumptions which are false and listen to them—they know.

  185. Do you agree that it is addictive?
  (Mr Davies) I have just told you—I said it right up front. Heroin is addictive.

  186. You are saying it being addictive is harmless?
  (Mr Davies) I am addicted to air and oxygen, but because I can get them it causes me no harm. If you made water illegal my life would be ruined, and that is what you have done to these people. Do you accept, on the basis of the evidence I have got in this quiet and extremely significant concession from the Home Office, it does not damage the mind or body of its users?


  187. We have contradictory evidence on that. Some of it comes from distinguished people in the medical profession. That is part of our problem.
  (Mr Kushlik) Rosemary Jenkins in her evidence to the Committee last week also says it is relatively harmless in and of itself. The issue is, what do we do about addiction in this country?

Angela Watkinson

  188. If you are addicted to something then your mind has been altered?
  (Mr Davies) In what way?

  189. Because you cannot function without that substance.
  (Mr Davies) As I say, it is like air and oxygen. Think back to the therapeutic addicts like Enid Bagnold. Think to the cancer patients who are given it, thank God, in this country. If you talk to them I defy you to find any way in which their mind is being damaged by the fact that they are addicted. Cancer patients are addicted. Therapeutic patients are addicted. There is Enid Bagnold writing National Velvet. You see the image of the black market heroin user who is out of his mind. He is sleeping rough; he is full of tranquillisers and alcohol. That is not heroin; that is the black market. Heroin does not damage your mind, thinking, morals or anything.

  190. If you are deprived of its supply you are unable to function?
  (Mr Davies) Exactly, which is why we must not do that to them. I do not want people to use heroin.

  191. They must not start using it in the first place?
  (Mr Davies) Exactly. What is the most effective way of stopping people using heroin; and for those who are using it, how do we save their lives, their health, keep them out of crime, homelessness and unemployment? We have to stop it.

Mrs Dean

  192. I would like to address my questions to Mr Kushlik but, before I do so, could I ask Mr Davies if he is actually advocating that ecstasy is prescribed?
  (Mr Davies) I know less about ecstasy. Really my only point is that one: I want people who are consuming to know what is in it. It seems to me that regulated sale is the way to do that. I am agnostic as to whether that is through doctors, pharmacists or, on the alcohol basis, through licensed retailers.

  193. Would not regulated sales put off young people who generally want to try something because it is illegal?
  (Mr Davies) I am too old to answer that question. I think you should ask someone younger.
  (Mr McNicholas) The legalisation is about putting a legal structure around something. What we have at the moment is an utter free-for-all. People see the natural ultimate extension of legalisation, as far as you can get with ecstasy, that you would be able to go into Boots and there would be, say, four brands: one would be, sunny day ecstasy, another would be happy day ecstasy and each of the tablets would come with their own little logo on it and you would be able to get them and choose your brand, go down to the nightclub and take them. That is exactly the situation that we have at the moment only kids do not know what is in them. I do not know if you know of the Mitsubishi pill which blew up around about 1997. The actual dosage of MDMA in ecstasy tablets had gone down to round about 60 milligrams or as low as 30 milligrams; and essentially what seemed to happen was the big producers and dealers based in Holland realised demand was going through the floor because people did not like the products. What they did was they came back with a tablet which was right back up to 120 milligrams of MDMA and it came with little Mitsubishi industry logo on it—three diamonds. It revolutionised the whole market overnight. There was a huge demand for this. Everyone started buying it, and these were good quality pills from a recreational ecstasy user's point of view. They were very pure; people knew exactly what was in them. But what happened very, very quickly within a matter of weeks was, because it was an unregulated system, you had lots of dealers who were quickly printing up pills with a much lower use of MDMA, or whatever they could lay their hands on stuck in there, and putting the same Mitsubishi logo on it. People thought they were buying something they trusted, but actually they were buying where they had no idea what was in it. In this current situation we have a system where kids are buying into branded pills—they would go for Rolexes, Armanis, Nikes, Golden Apples or Mitsubishis—but they have no security of knowing actually what is in the pill. We actually have the worst of all situations. If ecstasy were to be sold over the counter at the chemist, as you suggested, and it came in a very anonymous box with a leaflet inside that told you exactly what the tablet contained—here are some instructions if things start to go wrong; here are certain things you can do; make sure you take a rest, drink water but do not drink too much water—yes, I think that would put a lot of people off.

  194. Would that not encourage the 80 per cent of young people who do not take drugs to start taking them?
  (Mr McNicholas) No, I do not think that is the case at all. If somebody really wanted to take drugs, I do not believe illegality really puts people off. If you are the kind of person who either fears or respects social laws and regulations, to the extent that that puts you off taking drugs, you are really not the kind of person who is going to be taking drugs to begin with.

  195. By what indicators should we measure the success of drugs policy?
  (Mr Kushlik) We put in an addendum with our submission, which we are calling Transformer(?), which offers up a series of indicators which we think would be far better. Keith Hellawell explained very clearly how he came up with his indicators when he said they were not based on any statistical analysis. It seems like he pretty much made them up over breakfast as a result of going to the UN General Assembly Special Session of 1998, which called for a drug-free world. Keith, in his wisdom, knew that was a completely crazy thing to go for. He came back and said, "Okay, we'll go for a half drug-free world". Which is why the indicators are 50 per cent reductions or 50 per cent increases on various of those indicators—so to reduce crime by half, to increase the number of people in treatment by 50 per cent. The targets are wrong. As I said earlier, Mike Trace and Keith Kellawell have both admitted now that if they had their time over again they would choose different indicators. Our view is that it is so important that we get the targets and indicators right, because that is what drives the policy. If you set indicators that are about reducing prevalence then prohibition might look like a good way of doing it. If you give that more weight than the transmission of hepatitis C or HIV or the number of homeless people or the number of people involved in prostitution as a result of drug misuse, then you are going to start doing some really strange things which will actually be incredibly counterproductive. As long as your prevalence rates are kept lower than alcohol and tobacco it all looks great: which is what the Home Office again was doing in its evidence and saying, "Our heroin use and our ecstasy use is far lower than our alcohol and tobacco use, therefore prohibition works and legalisation stinks". The issue here is looking across the whole series of indicators: like drug-related prostitution; misusing drugs; like the size of the illegal trade; 8 per cent of international trade is now involved in the drugs business; and the impact that prohibition has on producer countries. If you begin to look at other indicators, like health indicators, reduction of crime indicators (organised crime currently makes the vast majority of its money out of the illicit trade) you could wipe that out. That does not mean organised crime disappears; they will go and find something else to do; but let us not hand them the whole business on a plate. Property crime, turf wars and drug war criminals just disappear. What if you could reduce the prison population by half. If we choose those as indicators then there is a whole other set of policies which come out of it, and enforcement of the drug laws drops off the agenda; it is not a useful way forward in terms of hitting the kind of indicators that the majority of us want to see.

  196. It is not a matter of reforming the indicators, it is completely changing them?
  (Mr Kushlik) It is changing them. They need to be thrown out and we need to go back to the drawing board. Prohibition has been in place and drug policies for the criminal justice oriented have been in place now for about 100 years. Society has moved on radically from a situation where we have a thousand heroin users in 1970. There was no ecstasy use in 1970. In 1971 the Misuse of Drugs Act comes in for very laudable reasons in order to reduce misuse and reduce harm and stop trade—all laudable aims; but there is a whole cultural change that has gone on in the meantime which means the prevalence of both use and misuse of drugs that were not even invented, or certainly were not being used in 1971, were now on the scene. We need to have a completely different way of dealing with things. When you have a situation where about half or perhaps more of property crime is committed to support a habit, whilst we have this very, very small group (and it has been mentioned a number of times—people who misuse drugs and get into problems with them) they are committing half of all property crime and filling up our prisons and causing mayhem in the cities. We can throw statistics back and forth in terms of what is drug-related and what is not, and where prohibition impacts, but what I suggest to Committee members and anybody in this room here is just go and take a look around. Does it look like the drug laws are working and drugs policy is currently working? When Keith Hellawell, Rosemary Jenkins and Sue Killen tell you it is all very effective and going great, talk to your constituents, talk to your local bobby and ask your local drugs workers if it is working, and they will tell you, "No, it ain't and it needs to be changed". Vic Hogg describes us as a small group of people with a vested interest. Our vested interest is in reducing harm, reducing crime, reducing the prison population and making the world a better place to live in. If those are vested interests I am proud to have them.

  197. We must emphasise we are talking about a drugs policy that has been in place for three years, and sometimes we are looking back over the last five or ten years, so we are talking about the last three years. How successful or not have those three years been while having the national drugs strategy, using the Government's target and also looking at the targets you would wish to see?
  (Mr Kushlik) In terms of the Government's targets, the young people's use of heroin and cocaine has risen—it certainly has not reduced. Re-offending rates of drug misusers they still have not got proper base lines for, and that is another problem here. Because Keith set his indicators in isolation—he had not talked to people at the research and development part of the Home Office who would have told him that we do not even have systems in place to give baseline data on that. We still do not have baseline data on that stuff. It is certainly clear, if you talk to any prison governor, prison officer or police officer, offending rates amongst misusers are still going up. Availability: there is still no methodology in place to set the baseline indicators; but the evidence on price and purity, which we think is the easiest way to measure availability, is that purity has either remained the same or gone up for all drugs, and the price has radically reduced. The price of heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, not so much cannabis, but in terms of the drugs that really cause problems to the individuals and those communities, are all more available and cheaper. Treatment: treatment provision has certainly risen but, as Nick has described, there is just an under-provision of gargantuan proportions. There are not the treatment places. 2,000 people went into residential rehab last year. There are 200,000 users—it does not touch the sides. In terms of the kind of provision we want to see, we want to see heroin prescribing, maintenance support and respite care. Crack users—there is nothing for crack users and they cause real problems for the community in terms of crime. Nobody knows what to do with them yet. In terms of Government indicators, they either have not got the data or, where they have, it is going in the wrong direction, so they are failing and they know it, but they will try and tell you otherwise. In terms of our indicators, we are looking at development, what is going on in Colombia and Afghanistan. It is interesting now that Mr Blair has decided the war against terrorism can also the war against drugs, and the links are quite clear when he talks about bombing the poppy fields. The attempts to eradicate the production of drugs have caused absolute mayhem for the very poor under-developed countries all over the world. We are not intercepting drugs at any level whatsoever and Customs are really being hauled over the coals at the moment for a lot of corruption which took place in the late 1990s to give the impression their seizure rates and their operations were more effective than they were. It is failing everywhere, on any indicator you care to look at, the Government's drugs policy has failed again and again and again and will continue to do so to the extent they do it within an international framework which denies any flexibility in terms of managing drug use.
  (Mr Davies) We are lucky they are failing as well. Do you understand this? If Keith Hellawell had succeeded in cutting the supply of heroin into this country, two things would have happened. One is the dealers would have increased the amount of additives in the drug in order to keep the supply up, and it is the additives which are dangerous, so it would have directly increased ill-health and conceivably death. The second thing is that the demand for heroin, an addictive drug, is completely inelastic, it does not react according to the supply, but the price would have risen because of the scarcity, therefore the consumers would have had to fund themselves to a higher level, and the hard core would therefore have had to commit more crime. I am extremely grateful that Hellawell has failed. If he had succeeded, we would have had more illness, more death and more crime, and that really goes to Tom Watson's point; prohibition in principle is destructive. Thank God they are failing.

  198. So we should not be bombing the poppy fields then?
  (Mr Kushlick) No. It is basically aerial rotivation, it will turn over the soil for next year's crop.
  (Mr Evans) To add an historical footnote, there is a tendency to think that this is a recent issue or a 1971 issue, but when I was a young barrister I operated the 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act and that Act was virtually identical to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The special character of heroin is derived from the actions of this House in 1920 when they found there was already some opium legislation in existence and therefore there had to be special provisions for opium and therefore heroin as an opiate derivative in the law itself, so heroin has acquired a very strange legislative status because of pre-1920 oddities of legislation. This goes back a very, very long way. Prohibition has been tried, it was a result of American fundamentalism in 1919, we unfortunately followed the Americans, they failed to persuade us to prohibit alcohol but they succeeded in persuading all the European countries on drugs. Everyone has a Dangerous Drugs Act 1920, incidentally—France, Sweden, Germany—because it was one of the penalties of going along with the American settlement at Versailles. So we imported American fundamentalism in 1920 and we still have it.

  199. Is it fair to expect a ten years' drug strategy to work in three years?
  (Mr Kushlick) No, but if you had a strategy which would work in 10 years it would be worth sticking with it. Given we know a prohibition-based, a criminal justice-orientated drugs policy is doomed to failure, what is the point of continuing with it, when it contributes to death, misery, crime, the funding of the international mafia, the destruction of developing countries? I think the time to stop it is now and put in place something where we can intervene in terms of price. For instance, the Chancellor can put a penny on a pint, the changes in price which operate at street level with illicit drugs are not anything to do with him, or anything to do with the Department of Health. When Rosemary Jenkins said that the 59 deaths from contaminated heroin were something which were dealt with, they were not dealt with by her or her department, they were dealt with by dealers who took that rubbish out of the market and replaced it with gear which would not kill their punters because that is not good business; it had nothing to do with the Department of Health. In terms of dealing with this whole thing, it is left up to unregulated dealers and the mafia to do it, and legalisation basically offers the Government numerous points to intervene in terms of distribution, price, quality, the whole kit and caboodle. To the extent it is prohibited, someone else will get to do it. As Roger so eloquently said, the issue here is breaking the relationship in terms of the UK domestic and foreign policy from the US and aligning ourselves with Europe, where the progressive moves on drug policy are having real benefits for users and the communities in which they live.
  (Mr McNicholas) I take your point, how can we expect a ten year policy to work in three years, but the changes that Keith Hellawell made in policy really were moving deckchairs on the Titanic, the whole system is not working at all and what he was doing was just tweaking. From my experience, if there were any indications that young people's lives were being improved as a result of the legislation which came in three years ago, then you might have me sat here saying, "Maybe we should give it a little more time", but things have got an awful lot worse for lots of people. The more people try and clamp down and reach this mythical situation where we will remove drugs entirely from certain areas of society or society in general, the more that is pushed forward, the more those drug users are pushed underground, the less likely they are to respect authority or turn to people in authority. You have a situation where if a young person wants to experiment with mind-changing substances such as ecstasy and, let's be honest, enjoy the experience because it is fun, to do that they necessarily have to commit an illegal act, and that immediately puts them in their perception outside of huge areas of society, which means that when things do go wrong, all the people in uniform are suddenly the enemy. So if your friend is in a nightclub and is suffering and they have taken drugs during the night, when the ambulance man or woman asks, "What have they taken?", the natural reaction of most people is to keep their mouth shut, and it is the worst possible thing they can do. That is the result of prohibition.

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