Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by Andrew Winterbottom

  1.  I work for social services as a specialist Drug and Alcohol Social Worker but I write as a private individual. The comments are not intended to have a "whistle blowing" purpose. I have worked for four years in my present role as part of a multi-agency statutory drug and alcohol (treatment) team. Prior to such I undertook a six month student social work placement with the same team and I have two years of work experience in an Alcohol Project providing Detox, Day Centre Services and Dry Hostels run by Turning Point in Manchester. I have further work experience in a homeless men's hostel.

  2.  Drug Laws? Cannabis: My view is that the prohibition of cannabis causes far more social harm than any of the negative consequences of use that prohibition was originally intended to prevent. It criminalises many individuals who would otherwise be law abiding causing career prospects to be adversely affected and unnecessary humiliation to those caught in the criminal justice system. It sets up an antipathy to, and alienation from, the police of a significant proportion of the populace, especially amongst young people. It illegitimatises drugs education messages in many young people's eyes. It leads to huge amounts of money going into the black economy and to organised crime both in this and other countries. It means that police resources for more serious crime fighting are curtailed. It leads to young people hiding cannabis use from parents leading to a lack of communication in this respect when clearly a more constructive course of action would be for potential harms to be discussed. My view is that permitted home cultivation for personal use as in Switzerland would reduce or eliminate many of the problems above. Model "award winning" cafes such as "The Greenhouse" in Amsterdam where health promotion literature and chemical composition listings are provided, digitally weighed cannabis is sold in a safe and "over the counter" manner and where no hard drugs or alcohol policies are effectively enforced would also provide functional alternatives.

  Other drugs: Many of the same issues apply whichever the drug but clearly the potential for dependence is greater with heroin, cocaine and amphetamine. Whether or not illegalising such actually helps reducing dependence is unclear to me. Certainly the illegal nature of heroin and amphetamine in my area leads to significant crime and a reluctance to seek help or advice at an early stage. My view is that individuals with a vulnerability to dependence on drugs or alcohol are often highly socially disadvantaged and marginalised even prior to drug dependence and the illegality of drugs doesn't really act as a great deterrent.

  3.  Effect of decriminalisation on the demand for drugs? It is my understanding that in countries where more liberal policies are pursued such as Holland there is actually a slightly less serious heroin problem and the local population's "soft" drug use is no different to other countries. Demand in my view is more likely to be addressed by tackling causes of problematic use, not attempting to stifle all use. Not every drinker becomes a dependent drinker after all, just as most teenagers who take ecstasy or cannabis are highly unlikely to become heroin addicts. Implied here is the need for much more wide ranging, effective and thorough work with those vulnerable to problem drug/alcohol use. Also work directed at preventing vulnerability in the first place (ie more effective help for children in need such as those in families where domestic violence occurs). Simply expecting every school child to see the logic in abstinence from all drugs after being educated on the subject clearly hasn't been working (DH 2000).

  4.  An alternative to illegal heroin? Heroin could be prescribed again in the treatment of dependence this time under very different conditions. Prescribing would need to be conducted on a very time limited short term basis leading to either detoxification or substitute buprenorphine or Methadone prescribing. I feel this would pull many more people into treatment. Important would be the availability of supervised dispensing and a far greater availability of counselling and treatment centres to cope with the demand. I would not recommend any such prescribing to be a part of primary care.

  5.  Ten year drug strategy. Treatment: I live in an area with over a 100 people on the waiting list for an assessment let alone treatment and a long wait of around three months for anyone but high risk/priority. Clearly an individual can become demotivated in such a time. The range of service provision is not adequate in my locality with a serious lack of supervised consumption places, detoxification beds, access to residential rehabilitation, therapeutic groupwork and services for affected families (partners and children). Currently a significant proportion of Devon has access to only four detoxification beds, often closed due to staff shortages, which are for drugs and alcohol clients and are part of an acute psychiatric ward, the last place many clients tell me they would want to be during detox. More specialist provision would involve resources and while there is now more money becoming available as part of the strategy I do not feel it will necessarily be adequate to meet demand.

  6.  The CARAT scheme needs revision. The joke in addiction services is that once people leave prison the through care teams are "through" with your care. Unless the local social services happen to have any money to pay for residential placements following prison and the local drug services are available to conduct an assessment prior to release and arrange a placement, many prisoners who had been receiving help in prison return to exactly the same circumstances.

  7.  Alcohol and a National Alcohol Strategy: Alcohol Concern's arguments for such a strategy are surely irrefutable. The policy vacuum in this respect badly needs addressing given the level of social harm and costs associated with alcohol use. This could be considered within a revised drug strategy.

September 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 20 December 2001