Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1340 - 1344)



1340.  That is the point, harm minimisation is not in the strategy and it ought to be in my view. I worry about how it might clash with some of other things and how you are going to arrange them. I am not sure that has been thought through.

  (Mr Ainsworth) I do not think there is a clash, I really do not think there is a clash. I think it is essential from the other point of view, in terms of infections, it is part of reducing demand. Obviously if it is done in an unacceptable way, an uncontrolled way and there is massive leakage into the illegal market then, yes, you are going to be acting against some of your other aims in the drug strategy. That is why we need effective controls to try to minimise, if we cannot eliminate, that kind of leakage.

  Mr Cameron: Thank you.


1341.  Going back to the business of the safe injecting rooms, could I ask you to have a think about that and send us a note about the government's position on that.

We are not talking about places where the drug is made available but just in terms of getting the habit off the street so that the needles are not thrown away into street, but so that the addicts can administer the drug in a safe environment. The other point that was mentioned a moment ago, we did have evidence from an organisation called Action on hepatitis C, which said "United Kingdom guidelines two, three and four"—I do not know if this is from the Department of Health—"on the treatment of hepatitis C excludes current injecting drug users". The evidence went on, "This is a major concern because drug users form the greatest number of those with HCV". Would you just check that point and send us a note.[4]

  (Mr Ainsworth) I will. The main issue that they have raised with me is protection for people in the prison environment against the spread of hepatitis C, and that goes far wider than injection behaviour, it is from tattooing to sex, and whatever have you. Those are the main issues they were concerned about when they raised them with me. I will look at those issues, as I agreed. I can understand the benefits in terms of keeping the paraphernalia off the streets and in safe, disposable areas. The potential downside of that is that we drive people back on to the market if they are not prepared to use drug in those environments. Let me look at that and give you a note.

  See Appendix, Ev226-7.

1342.  What you need to look at is the example of what goes on in Germany and see whether that has improved things or made them worse?

  (Mr Ainsworth) Yes.

Angela Watkinson

1343.  I wonder if I can just add to one of the questions that you have left the Minister with in relation to safe, clean places for people to inject off the street. Would you say whether implied in that there should be withdrawal treatment or is it your intention to simply maintain drug addicts' habits?

  (Mr Ainsworth) There is no desire to leave people with a habit that leaves them vulnerable at any point that they cannot continue to use the treatment that is available to the illegal market and to drive them back to the harm and the traffickers and the dealers. Any treatment has to be tailored to reducing the harm and reducing the addiction of the particular individual. With regard to crack cocaine addicts one of the biggest problems is even getting them in the door. We had to undertake Out Reach to go out and try and persuade them to come into treatment centres in the first place, they feel very threatened and they feel there is nothing being offered to them, so non-threatening treatment, such as calming them with acupuncture, and things like that, is what is offered by some centres in order to get them in, establish contact with them, calm them down so they can start talking to them about some of these underlying issues. At certain phases in any treatment, the aim of which is to try and help the person to reduce the addiction, there may be a period of maintenance that is absolutely essential that is part of that.

1344.  Cure would be the ultimate goal?

  (Mr Ainsworth) Where there is any alternative I do not think there is any desire from anybody to continue to maintain an addiction.

  Angela Watkinson: That was my point.

  Chairman: Going back to those guidelines I referred to, they are not Department of Health guidelines, Minister, they are National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidance on the use of ribavirin and interferon for hepatitis C. I believe the other one was the British Society of Gastroenterology Clinical Guidelines for the management of hepatitis C.[5] Those are the ones referred to. Minister, thank you very much, you have been answering questions patiently for two and a half hours and we are extremely grateful to you. This session is closed.

4   See Appendix, Ev227. Back

5 Back

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