Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Decriminalize Heroin and Cocaine, says top U.K. Doctor

The Star

A debate over the decriminalization of heroin and cocaine has erupted again in Great Britain after a private statement by the one-time head of the Royal College of Physicians was leaked to a drug-reform campaign group and the media.

Sir Ian Gilmore, the former president of the Royal College of Physicians, made the statement about his feelings on the country’s drug policies in a private bulletin to the members of the college.

In it he called for a change in tactics, decriminalizing illicit drug use and treating addiction as a health problem not a criminal problem.

The two-line statement, which was leaked to Transform, a drug-reform campaign group, was private, Gilmore said in a telephone interview Wednesday with the Star. But he was “happy” to defend it.

“My position is since 1971 successive governments have pursued a policy that we should be a society free of hard drugs, stop them from getting into the country and prevent growth in production and if people use them put them in prison,” said Gilmore.

“My point is that it has not succeeded and it is time to have a debate about a more pragmatic approach and treat heroin addiction as a health problem rather than a criminal problem.”

Gilmore made the statement after a recent analysis in the British Medical Journal that convinced him the country’s drug policy for Class A drugs such as heroin had failed, he said.

The editorial said the prohibition of drugs was “counterproductive,” made public-health problems worse, and stimulated organized crime and terrorism.

His call for a re-thinking of the drug laws in Great Britain comes on the heels of comments made by the chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, who said last month it was “rational” to consider “decriminalizing personal drug use.”

Gilmore believes that more money should be put into medical resources to deal with heroin addiction, for example, rather than spending money on trying to stop the production or importing of drugs.

He also made the point in his statement that in the United Kingdom there have been a number of encouraging trials with heroin addicts that resulted in those individuals returning to work because they were no longer committed to criminal behaviour to support their habit.

As a physician he has seen all too clearly the medical complications – HIV and hepatitis C – that come from heroin addiction and the use of dirty needles, he said. “I’m not suggesting anyone go down to the street corner and buy heroin.”

Rather he would like to see a regulatory framework set up to allow these drugs to be controlled by law. “It’s not a radical approach,” he said. “Many others have said it.”

Many British politicians and opposition members have expressed that view privately, Gilmore said. But there are huge pressures on government to adopt and continue a tough-on-drugs policy.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, has said in the Telegraph that the legalization of drugs “would simply create the mistaken impression that these substances are not harmful, when in fact this is far from the truth.”

But Gilmore rejects the position that his position sends a message that Class A drugs aren’t dangerous. “That’s not our intention,” he said. “Heroin ruins lives, he said. “If there was a change in the way addiction was managed, it would also have to come with an information campaign.”

In 2000 a Royal College of Physicians report, with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said there were no easy answers to the problem of drug misuse in society.

At the time the report said “three-quarters of the U.K.’s expenditure on drug-related problems is devoted to enforcement and international supply reduction, but that there is little evidence that the money is well spent,” according to a statement on the Royal College of Physicians website.

The report also identified a need for more investment in research to understand the ill-effects of drugs and in-treatment programs for addiction. The authors called for a public debate on the issue.

In a statement the Royal College of Physicians said it plans to review the findings of the report with the Royal College of Psychiatrists under the leadership of its new president.

Gilmore’s statement has been praised by Transform, saying his statement was the “nail in the coffin” on current drug laws in Britain, the Telegraph said.

No comments:

Post a Comment