Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1380
TUESDAY 12 MARCH 2002
1380. Supposing someone walked out of a chemist
having got his fix and murdered someone on the street?
(Mr Gillespie) Chairman, people walk out of pubs and
murder people, as we know. What I am saying is that once you are
in control of supply, you are in charge of the quality of that
supply. We do not go into pubs and drink 150 per cent neat alcohol.
We drink alcohol that has been diluted down for safety reasons.
1381. I think the point about crack cocaineand
I am no expert in this areais that it is not about the
quantity that you drink or the quality of it. It leads to violent
and unpredictable behaviour often involving guns and knives.
(Mr Gillespie) Thank goodness that we do not have
the same problem in this country as happened in America yet, but
I was looking on the Internet and I noticed that the actual use
of crack cocaine in America is tailing off very quickly and that
very few people use it, but whether there are one or two is not
the point. I still say that we, the public, should be in charge
of the stuff. It is too dangerous to be left in the hands of criminals.
Whether it is crack cocaine, heroin or whatever, we should be
regulating this. At the moment, we are not in charge of anything,
we are just reacting all the time.
1382. I just want to ask Ms Williams about what
you said with regard to residential care and how important that
is. Can you identify what it is that is holding back the provision
of more residential care. More money is going into the drug action
teams but is there a resistance on behalf of the drug action teams
to spend the money? Do they prefer methadone and getting more
people through because their figures look better?
(Ms Williams) Yes. They have already employed all
the people to deliver. They already have these services in place,
so it is already there. We argue that to put somebody in residential
rehabilitation costs about £400 a week and to put them in
prison costs £700. If you offer that rehabilitation before
the crime is committed, it not only saves the user but it saves
the community and the family and that seems common sense to me.
The amount that our drug action team have put into residential
rehabilitation is one of the highest in the north-east but we
have pushed for it and it is still not enough. For other areas
it is very, very low. For some of our neighbouring authorities,
it is £40,000. So, in a neighbouring town with 2,000 users,
you are probably going to offer five people places and that is
not enough. They have already set the services up and the jobs
are already in place to treat people in the community and, when
you have such a high addiction rate like we have in our town,
you have the subculture of heroin users. They all know each other
and it is very hard for them. They might get a good day when they
are committed to not use, but they bump into a friend and now
and again there is a free bag for them. It is so difficult for
a lot of them to get better when there is such a prevalence in
our area of heroin use. To me it seems common sense, but . . .
1383. Something you said that I thought was
particularly striking was the fact that you needed to give heroin
users almost a choice: for some methadone is right, for some it
should be a clean amount of heroin and for others a residential
course. One question that I haveI do not know who would
want to answer itis, do you find, as has been put to me
by many people who know heroin users, that, in trying to help
them, you have to wait until they want to be treated? It seems
to me that that has a policy implication. Do you agree with that?
(Ms Williams) You cannot help anybody unless they
want to be helped but you usually find very quickly that is arrived
at because (a) they cannot fund their habit and (b) their tolerance
goes up so quickly and there might be a bad batch of stuff about
and they cannot fund their habit any longer, so they actually
do need help very soon because they cannot cope with withdrawal.
(Mr Sims) It is the same for families as well. One
of the reasons that we talk about choice from the family service
perspective is that some people are ready to go to a support group,
others will want a home visit, some might want to contact a help
line and all those things will happen at different times and,
from the user's perspective, I think one has to accept that people
themselves need to know that they are ready to seek help and that
the average number of interventions for treatment before it may
be considered to be working can be anything up to six or seven
times before anybody begins to succeed.
(Mrs Humphreys) It is a little like smoking which
is an addiction, is it not? You can nag and nag somebody to give
up but they will not until they are ready and they have made that
decision for themselves.
1384. Mr Gillespie, I understand where you are
coming from about legalisation but do you accept that legal drugs
are sold illegally to underage children on our streets and would
not the same happen if we legalised all currently illegal drugs?
(Mr Gillespie) The only yardsticks to compare that
effectively because we do not really know what is around, that
is the whole point, is to look at where we can get supplies of
illegal cigarettes or illegal alcohol apart from bringing it across
the channel. Usually what happens is that, when these things are
controlled, regulated and supplied through licensed outlets, there
is no market for the black market. Black markets only exist where
there is prohibition, which is why we have the massive crime problem
on the streets and everywhere else. So, I am sorry, I do not agree
with that. I do not think that that would be a problem at all
and, if it were, it would be a minimal problem and one that could
be easily dealt with.
1385. Ms Williams, I am interested to know whether
you have seen any improvements over recent years. I am glad to
hear that you are on the DAT committee. Have you seen any improvements
in the last couple of years or is it just not happening?
(Ms Williams) It looks like it is starting to happen
now; it looks like there are going to be improvements. We still
have a way to go because it is like the experts thinking they
know best and that is not the case because they have not actually
had an experience of drug use on the ground of either users, families
or communities and very often are very removed from that. They
could be directors of social services or chief executives of the
health authority and sometimes it is quite a slow process to get
them to realise what is needed. Sometimes there are vested interests.
Where the services are already there and sometimes not providing
a good service, it is very difficult to say to a trust, "You
have not provided a good service, we are taking your contract
away" when a number of the people around that table work
for the health authority. It is difficult because of vested interests
who have a vote around the DAT table.
1386. Following residential rehabilitation,
are there facilities to follow up from that to make sure that
people do not go back into drug use?
(Ms Williams) There has not been but our local DAT
is trying to get some local housing sorted out in order that they
can get secondary care. No, there has not been any to date. We
have not sent very many people into rehab, so we have not needed
to use secondary housing care.
1387. You talk about the need for more residential
rehabilitation. Would more community rehabilitation suffice?
(Ms Williams) No. I live in the town centre area and
it is just awash with heroin users. Most of them are on crack
cocaine as well, so they take crack to go up and heroin to come
down. We already have crack there; there is quite a big market
for crack. A lot of them cannot get clean in the community, there
is too much around them, they can see it all the time. It is a
very seductive drug and it is a very hard drug to kick.
1388. Mrs Humphreys, I presume that, for your
son to have gone to prison for two-and-a-half years, he was probably
accused of dealing.
(Mrs Humphreys) He was.
1389. We have had discussions in this Committee
about the number of ecstasy tablets that someone would have on
(Mrs Humphreys) I know but the trouble is that the
law is the law kind of thing and what it does not do is take in
the circumstances of what is really happening in the world today.
When students all live in a flat together, they are all in it
together. These drugs were found in the sitting room and my son
had taken his turn and there were 53 ecstasy tabletsit
is complicated and I do not want to go into great detailwhich
were to last them the whole term and they were all in it together.
They were not even in his room, they were in the sitting room
and people took them; they only had to deal with this one phone
call and that was fine. It was a shock to me but that is what
they do and it is not real dealing. It does not seem to me that
it is the same at all when they are all in it together and they
have all made the decision and they are all intelligent human
beings and that is what they are doing.
1390. I was wondering if it was just your son
with, say, 10 tablets but it was 53.
(Mrs Humphreys) There were 53 in a pot. They had three
left over when they got 12it is complicatedand then
this guy said, "These are all right, you know that they do
not have a bad effect, these are really good ones" and so
they made a joint decision, "Yes, that is true, we will not
need any, we are going clubbing four more times in the term"
and that is all they needed. They thought they were making an
informed decision taking Es that they knew were OK and that they
had control over. They were not heavy users and that was enough
to last the house.
1391. Just out of interest, did the rest of
the people in the house also go down?
(Mrs Humphreys) They all got carted off but my son
had taken the turn and he said that right away, which of course
you never should say. He pleaded guilty in that case because that
is what happened and he just had to be sentenced.
1392. He had taken a turn in purchasing?
(Mrs Humphreys) He had taken the turn because that
is what they do. That is the other thing that I learned. Virtually
everybody who has taken drugs has been a supplier. By passing
a joint, you are a supplier; by getting the E for your friend
for that night, you are a supplier. It is social supply, it is
not a wicked, horrible person corrupting our youth. It is like
buying a round of drinks to them. I am not saying that I am advocating
taking drugs at all and I wish they would not and I have never
taken any myself, but I think we have to accept that people do
and they are not bad people.
1393. I wonder if I could play devil's advocate
and ask you first of all whether you would describe yourselves
as representative of most parents with teenage children. I want
to make it clear that I am not being discourteous in any way.
We have all heard what you have said and at least some of us were
most moved but, playing the devil's advocate for the moment, would
you say that your views are representative of most parents insofar
as you can give an opinion?
(Mrs Humphreys) I think a lot of parents are very
ignorant; I know because I used to be. Like a convert, once you
have found out stuff, you know . . . I think a lot of parents
would rather turn a blind eye and hope that their child will not
get caught and that they will grow through it. I do not think
many people realise that you get sent to prison. One girl got
sent to prison for giving one ecstasy tablet to her friend. I
think that people do not realise that.
(Ms Williams) I think there is less and less ignorance
in our area because, in the extended family, nearly every family
is touched by drugs now. So people are quickly becoming aware
of the problems relating to drugs and the damage that occurs.
They are fast acquiring a lot of knowledge about drugs because
somebody is touched by it.
(Mrs Humphreys) It has become much less hysterical
now, has it not? Instead of drugs, bad, kill and all that, they
are thinking, it is a problem, we have to deal with it, how can
we help people best?
(Ms Williams) You have to support the families, that
is our community, that is the backbone of the community.
1394. Mrs Humphreys, on page 2 of your memo
to us, you say that policy makers are terrified of the electorate.
That is linked to my previous question. Do you think that the
policy makers, the Government and the opposition parties, take
the view that there is such a view in the country as a whole against
(Mrs Humphreys) I think the trouble is that the majority
of people are quite ignorant. They do not know a lot about drugs
and they have very fixed ideas. If you get newspapers talking
about killer drugs and all these headlines, a lot of people will
think, yes, this is right, and the Government might be too scared
to try and make things safer or too scared to be seen to be soft
on drugs because the public will not stand for it. They are afraid
that the public will not stand for it. Actually I think the public
could learn, they could be taught and they could understand that
the problem that we have got now is because of the prohibition
and if we dealt with it in a different way, we might be able to
save a lot of lives and maybe stop there being the demand as well.
1395. So you are saying in effect that the policy-makers
should have more courage?
(Mrs Humphreys) I am, absolutely. They should have
much, much more courage and they should also find out and not
be ignorant themselves, which I think some of them are.
(Mr Sims) Can I respond to that first question about
whether the views are representative, if that is appropriate.
We work with literally hundreds of families around the country
and I would say that the only way in which the views here are
representative is because they are expressed with eloquence, which
we find happens all the time with families that we work with,
and that the views of many people who are family members are changed
by the personal experience that they have had, so they might have
come into the whole debate about drugs and even alcohol with a
very different view from that which they end up with because of
what has happened in their family and if those views have largely
been ignored. I think in that sense there is a representation
here, but in another sense every family we work with is of course
1396. But the Government has moved, has it not,
and supported by the main Opposition party? If you were giving
evidence at the last Parliament or certainly before, you would
argue that the Government of the day was indeed so terrified,
supported by the then Opposition, and it did not want to move
at all. In the last Parliament there was no change, the view taken
by both Front Benches, but now, supported apparently by both Front
Benches, there has been a change, certainly as far as cannabis
is concerned. Do you welcome that and do you see that as a move
towards what you were aiming to achieve?
(Mrs Humphreys) Absolutely, but it does not go far
enough because it is still sort of making criminals out of people
who are not criminals. It is good, it is brilliant that they are
doing anything and it does seem a very good start.
1397. So you see it as a step forward?
(Mrs Humphreys) I do see it as a definite step forward,
but they have got to look more closely at who is really a criminal
and whether it is really immoral to take drugs and whether it
should be a legal thing at all. It seems to me that to give people
criminal records for just being foolish and hedonistic is a terrible
thing to do; it is a life sentence.
1398. But it does not seem that there has been
any sort of public disquiet or public reaction against what the
Government has done.
(Mrs Humphreys) Hardly any.
1399. Mr Gillespie, what is your view?
(Mr Gillespie) Chairman, can I answer that question
and the one you asked before, Mr Winnick, about being representative
of the public. In the two years since my son died and particularly
in the first six months, I was absolutely astonished and really,
really, really deeply affected by the number of people who contacted
me. There was a coroner's inquest and articles in the newspapers.
I have over the last two years been approached by an old Etonian
landowner who has been to see me in the village pub, and who did
not want to be seen talking to somebody, but whose son was in
trouble. My local lawyer, my own lawyer's son, whom I knew well,
who had not told me anything about it, these people had been hiding
all this and bottling it all up, a local builder and various other
people have come over these two years, and I am appalled at the
number of people from all kinds of backgrounds who have come into
contact one way or another with drugs via their children, saying,
"We've done this for them, we've done that for them",
every one of them feeling guilty, every one of them not knowing
where to turn, every one of them being stonewalled by the system
and the medical profession. That is that point. There was a second
point you were asking towards the end and I have totally forgotten
what it was.