Examination of Witness (Questions 680
TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001
680. That brings us to the biggest aspect of
harm reduction, not that to the individual who chooses to take
the drugs, but the huge criminality which is necessary in order
to sustain a habit. As one of our earlier witnesses said, we should
allow people who wish to go to hell in their own handcart to go
there, at intervals pointing out the risks to them, helping those
who wish to come back but recognising that we cannot actually
dissuade them if that is what they want to do, indeed much of
your evidence says that. What do you say to those who say legalise
heroin, collapse the criminal market and thereby reduce the greatest
amount of harm inflicted on society by drugs, namely the criminality
that comes with it.
(Mr Trace) The majority of the criminality being related
to people needing to raise money to buy their drugs.
(Mr Trace) I do not think you would achieve your objectives
by making it cheaper for them to buy their drugs. The market analysis
might move if it were an ordinary market, but I do not think you
can change the basic situation of your average drug addict. Once
they are hooked on heroin and any other drugs, hooked on the lifestyle
related to that, they will continue to commit crimes. The only
way to get people out of that is to find some way of helping them
to understand that there is a different way to live and there
is a better way to living. That is basically my commitment to
treatment which I have had from my practice background, but also
in terms of policy. That is where the strategy has broadly got
682. A lot of people steal because that is the
only way of raising the money to feed the habit, do they not?
(Mr Trace) The fact that they have to go to disreputable
dealers on street corners and pay a lot of money for their drugs
contributes to the chaos of an addict's life, there is no doubt
about that. If they were going to Boots the Chemist to get their
heroin or if they were receiving that heroin from a doctor, that
element of the chaos in their lives would be reduced. I am saying
that if somebody is living an addictive lifestyle and they are
addicted to heroin, and they will always be addicted to a number
of other drugs as well, just creating a licensed form of supply
will not mean that those people become unchaotic and stabilised.
You need to go through a treatment process with them as well.
683. It would mean fewer people would have to
travel down that road in the first place in order to have access
to heroin, would it not?
(Mr Trace) We are now in speculation. I know no more
than you do about what would happen if we created those circumstances.
My impression is that you would not have as significant an impact
as you would hope by regularising the heroin market. The chaos
and the disorder which goes with a heroin using lifestyle would
be of a similar amount even if they went to Boots to get their
684. Your advice is not to do that.
(Mr Trace) I would also refer to my element of risk
there. We really do not know where this takes us. If we got heroin
policy wrong, then it could get an awful lot worse than it is
685. Take ecstasy. What would you do about ecstasy?
(Mr Trace) I am in two minds what we do on ecstasy.
I certainly think the scientific arguments do justify a move from
class A to class B, but because it is such an unpredictable drug
and there are so many tragediesrelative to heroin a small
numberso many situations where young people meet immediate
harm from ecstasy that once again we have to be very careful in
the messages we put out about ecstasy. One of the effective things
through the 1990s was the health education we did on ecstasy,
probably backed up by these statements from political authorities
and other people. If you look at the surveys, young people in
their late 1980s, early 1990s were saying that ecstasy was a completely
harmless drug. You do those surveys now and young people are absolutely
sure that ecstasy is a very risky thing to get involved in. That
is good, that should be that way because it is such an unpredictable
impact on just one use.
686. You would reduce the classification of
(Mr Trace) If we could do that without giving out
the wrong message. I am generally critical when people talk about
giving out the wrong message.
687. Could we do it without giving out the wrong
message? I am trying to pin you down because we have to draw conclusions.
(Mr Trace) I am trying to avoid that. It is a real
dilemma for decision makers because the science tells us that
it is more appropriately in class B than class C. That is my view.
If, as we saw in one of your previous things, anybody in authority
says that that is what we should do, be it policeman, politician,
all of a sudden you have newspapers all over the place saying
politicians say ecstasy is okay. That is a bad thing. I do think
it is a real dilemma. I am not sure what we would do to get out
688. You are unsure on that. Cocaine. Anything
you would do about that?
(Mr Trace) No. class A drug. In terms of legislative
change, no, it deserves to be a class A drug. In terms of police
practice, if you arrest somebody who is a cocaine user who clearly
is a recreational user it comes back to the issue we were talking
about: prioritisation of police resources.
689. And we should continue to hammer the dealers.
(Mr Trace) Yes.
690. Even though it has no impact on the price.
(Mr Trace) I would go back to where we started. You
are not going to reduce cocaine prevalence by hammering the dealers;
that is my guess, I could not say categorically. Having our law
enforcement authorities battle against some very nasty criminals
is the right thing to do anyway. We certainly do not give up on
691. On ecstasy, we had a doctor in front of
us a couple of weeks ago. Basically he said that with ecstasy,
MDMA, it was not the drug which killed you it was what you did
after taking the drug, either dancing all night and not drinking
any water, or drinking lots of water and not dancing and your
kidneys failing. Is that right?
(Mr Trace) Broadly yes, but we do not know absolutely.
One of the real problems with the synthetic drugs which we have
at the moment is that there is no historical research base to
say if you take this much it will do this to you. That is the
great risk with synthetics. With heroin, we absolutely know you
take this much and this is what it does to you. Yes, broadly I
would agree with his perception.
692. If that were right, would the answer not
be to have pill testing plus education? If the scientist is right,
would that not be the way to reduce harm?
(Mr Trace) If we could say to young people who go
to a club, that if they take a pill of 50mg content they are safe,
but if they take 70mg they are not safe, then I could see the
argument for much more pill testing.
693. So more research is probably the answer.
(Mr Trace) If research takes us to that conclusion,
but my understanding of the science is that we can research it
all we like, but we do not absolutely know how ecstasy affects
the body and the brain. To answer your question, yes, research
is needed to answer that question but I am not sure how long it
will take the scientists to get there. The other thing about ecstasy,
and this is the much more difficult area of analysing harm related
to ecstasy, is that there are indications from a number of studies
now that long-term mental impairment related to heavy ecstasy
use is significant, but we are not going to know for ten years
because we do not have a cohort we can track that on. It is there
as a cloud on the horizon, but we do not absolutely know.
694. One last point. You said about cannabis,
that you thought we were near saturation point in terms of people
(Mr Trace) I raised the prospect.
695. You also said you were worried about children
becoming drug dealers and seeing that life as attractive. Bearing
that in mind, is there not an argument for decriminalisation,
for taking it out of the criminal market altogether?
(Mr Trace) Yes, there is an argument for that.
696. If you were advising Ministers, yes or
(Mr Trace) I would advise them right now to find out
right now more about the dynamics of the drug markets, to see
how significant an impact that has on young people. This is one
thing I really do worry about, that we are not looking at it closely
Chairman: Is that a no or a yes?
697. It is a no for the time being.
(Mr Trace) No to which question?
698. The legalising of cannabis.
(Mr Trace) Yes, there is an argument to say if you
took the profit motive out of moving cannabis around you would
help that problem. My advice to Ministers is to look more closely
at that problem before coming to a decision on it because we do
not understand the dynamics that well.
699. You perhaps rightly say how important it
is to hammer the dealers.
(Mr Trace) Yes.