Friday, 2 April 2010

Another member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has resigned, adding another chapter to the beleaguered group's problematic relationship with government. Eric Carlin, former chairman of the English Drug Education Forum, said he was disillusioned with the way the decision to ban mephedrone was taken due to media and political pressure. In his resignation letter to Home Secretary Alan Johnson, Mr Carlin wrote: "We had little or no discussion about how our recommendation to classify this drug would be likely to impact on young people's behaviour. Our decision was unduly based on media and political pressure. As well as being extremely unhappy with how the ACMD operates, I am not prepared to continue to be part of a body which, as its main activity, works to facilitate the potential criminalisation of increasing numbers of young people."

The Council has had a very chequered history. The boss was sacked and most of the others have already resigned; either to show support of their erstewhile Boss or with disapproval at what the Government has been doing. I say Government but the speed with which events have happened suggests that it has been the actions solely of the Home Secretary.

I do not know how the Council was selected or the detailed background of any member but I am surprised that at least one of them should resign on the grounds of little or no discussion. One assumes they submit reports where they recommend what needs to be done in respect of drug control and that would, surely, be their path to initiate discussion.

From my own experience of investigating drug use and distribution, I would say that there is little to discuss anyway. We already have a well entrenched drug culture and consumption of drugs - of whatever classification - is a regular part of the recreational side of many people's lifestyle. Warning them of the dangers does nothing - they say that they can control their own usage such that they do not become dependent. Punishment holds no threat they recognise.

The latest banning will have easily predictable results. The sources of supply will be seized by dealers who will sell at a profit. The buyers will have to find ways - generally illegal or morally decadent - to fund their purchases. Can anyone point to a single instance where banning a potentially risky substance has actually reduced the harm to both the users and society at large? The knee-jerk reaction of classification will also mean that there will be no research into exactly what the drug does. This thwarts any attempt to reasonable warn users what risks they run and how we might treat those who become dependent.

Drugs expert Professor David Nutt argues the case for a legal, though regulated, supply of drugs like mephedrone, ecstasy and cannabis, to reducing the undoubted harms of drug taking. There is a sort of precedent in the use of methadone as an alternative to heroin.

More than 30 years of methadone prescribing (for the much vaunted purpose of reducing drug related crime and drug addiction) have resulted in the quantities of drugs being consumed, the number of drug users and the incidence of crime rising year upon year.

In any other situation, such disastrous statistics would over-whelmingly expose and condemn such ‘treatment’ as an abject failure - but this has not happened. Methadone is a dangerous and addictive Class ‘A’ drug which is being prescribed to hundreds of thousands of drug users as a substitute for heroin and which is then dispensed to those users at taxpayer expense on a daily basis - usually for life – likely a life shortened by the methadone.

What we do with drug controls is producing a far from ideal result. It might well be that it is a problem without solution and the most human reaction would be to warn in very clear terms and then treat those who ignore that
message - or bury the dead.