2 Nov 2009

Dealing with drugs needs new thinking and new courage

The kerfuffle over the sacking of the chief drugs adviser to the Home Office masks a much more serious crisis than any of the participants pretend.

Let’s face it. If we were to categorise risk, then undoubtedly alcohol would be a class A drug and so would tobacco. They both kill on an absolutely spectacular scale.

The reality is that 50 years of attempting to deal with the drugs disaster have been a complete and utter failure. Nothing has staunched the growth of criminality, imprisonment, loss of life, devastation of lives, and enrichment of criminals.

Far more lives are devastated by the criminalisation of drugs than by the drugs themselves. Many of those in Britain’s jails are either on drugs or in jail because of handling drugs in some way.

The illegal drugs industry in America alone is worth many hundreds of billions of dollars. The political compromise across the world generates skulduggery at every level of society.

Dealing with drugs requires new courage and a completely new approach. I speak as somebody who’s intersected with a day centre working with young people, many of whom are either on drugs or on the fringes of drugs. I’ve been involved there for 40 years.

He may never become prime minister, but Alan Johnson’s great gift to personkind might be to re-engage Professor Nutt and join with him in calling a halt to a completely bankrupt method of handling the drugs disaster.


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28 reader comments

  1. Gavin Sheedy says:
  2. Ray Turner says:

    Completely agree Jon.

  3. Mudplugger says:

    The only reason ‘illegal drugs’ remain classified as such is that no government has yet found a successful way to tax them. But, just like Prohibition in 1920s USA, the current policy is doomed to fail and a grown-up approach is needed. Only the Lib-Dems are heading this way, which is a sad reflection on our two major parties and their inability to accept and absorb the realities of modern life.

  4. Saltaire Sam says:

    The only reason governments don’t put alcohol and cigarettes as Class A is they make so much money out of them.

    So why not go the whole cynical hog and take tax revenue from legalised cannabis etc? Why be a half hypocrite?

  5. mark says:

    I am in complete agreement. The most lamentable part of this sorry sage, is Alan Johnson’s deplorable behavior. Worse was to come with his ridiculous defence in sacking Professor Nutt. He patently has no interest in the truth about drug harm, or how to tackle it. He simply wants to look ‘tough on crime’ rather than address the real issues. The idea of overcompensating, by lecturing young people that some drugs are more harmful than they really are, as a deterrent, is asinine. It also shows how politicians often pander more to what they ‘think’ public opinion wants, as opposed to genuine discourse and action which may actually solve social issues.
    The criminalization of drug taking has never worked in the past and will never work in the future. It could however, be controlled in a much healthier way, if only there were the political will, and a discourse which included Truth rather than vacuous rhetoric.

  6. Nigel says:

    Forgive my ignorance, but what is it in this country which divorces its own reality from that of its geographic and cultural neighbours? Netherlands, Belgium, some parts of Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal all have adapted some form of decriminalisation of cannabis. As has Canada (in some form), and as California and Colorado may do. So why is Britain locked into a perverse sort of spooky pseudo-science on this issue? Particularly as it’s not as if the upcoming Tory government will change anything. Policy-making by virtue of perceived red top reception isn’t really policy-making at all, isn’t it.

  7. revdavidsouthall says:

    I agree totally with Snow. As a drugs counsellor in a previous exisitence and now an ordained minister, I think that the notion of dangerous drugs is problematic. But I also think that the modernisitic assuption that because it is “scientific” then it must be truw (a la Nutt) is to be challenged.

  8. Steve says:

    As you say, the drugs industry is worth billions of dollars. Yet again it raises the obvious question that for cannabis, at least, why don’t the governments of the world legalise it, licence it and tax it?

    After all, it was only made illegal in America because the newspaper magnates forced it through to protect their paper mill business interests.

    And another thing – Afghanistan should be encouraged to grow as much poppy as possible, the opium to be bought by UN or various governments, to be turned into morphine. There is a huge shortage of pharmaceutical morphine for use in hospitals, especially in Africa…

    Afghanistan could become the leader in the world for legal morphine production and earn their country a load of money which could be used to make things better for them over there.

  9. revdavidsouthall says:

    Yes to Snow. No to the reductionism of Nutt and all so that if it is scientific it must be true.

  10. Roy Beiley says:

    I have been following this spat with interest. There is no doubt that the way we currently categorise drugs, alcohol and tobacco bears no relationship to the potential damage each can inflict on humans. The problem of employing “experts” to advise politicians is that advice can not automatically be made law; Politicians are elected in this country and any party which advocated making alcohol less accesible than say cannabis would at best be ridiculed and being unelectable and if it camr to pass would herald a sort of English prohibition with all the attendant crime-related problems seen in the USA in the 1930’s.
    Advisres need to accept that their advice has to be tempered with political savvy – otherwise why do we need Government?
    I hope this makes sense to you even if you disagree.

  11. adz says:

    I totally agree with you Jon. We are fighting “another” loosing battle. Why are governments so opposed to the legalization and controlled sale of illegal substances? There has to be something beneath it. Something very sinister like what is and has been happening in Italy and the legal underworld that dominates national politics there. Are governments themselves gaining from keeping some drugs illegal? They must be because as you quite rightly say Jon, alcohol and tobacco are legal yet lethal and they generate trillions of dollars each year…or is it month?. Just add the taxes on top and you now have the icing on the cake.
    adzmundo CND

  12. Niall Scott says:

    This is sensible so why did this evening’s show have on the author of the cannabis diaries? Logic usually cannot trump an emotional mother. She offered no insight whatsoever. You could have had a mother on saying ‘ban cars’ and it would have made far more sense, children die on the roads every day why not get someone who knows about statistics involved rather than a lady with an estranged son?
    Cue actual rant – this topic along with global warming seem to point to why the current system is flawed politicians can only look to the short term and have to appease rather than explain to people.

  13. Millie says:

    As a manager of a drug rehabilitation centre, and someone who has worked in this field, and been a labour voter for many years, I am now, for the first time ever, seriously considering who else to vote for in next year’s election.
    I am absolutely appalled that government posturing is allowed to deny the shocking impact that the criminalisation of all drugs, including cannabis, ecstasy and other so called ‘softer’ drugs has on individuals, their families and all of our communties. I am not denying that for some people cannabis or ecstasy use can have devastating results, but compared to the ill-health, deaths and violence caused by our legal and acceptable face of drug-taking – alcohol – they cannot compare. Although, disappointingly, I know this current debacle will not bring about a much needed overhaul of our existing drug policy, I fully support Professor Nutt and his colleagues stand on this issue.

  14. jim kitchingman says:

    You are, of course, quite right. It is impossible however, to debate this issue sanely and rationally in Great Britain. Too many reputations, too many careers are riding on the current insane approach

  15. psychics says:

    I think the whole situation is a farce! There should be no encouragement for anybody to take drugs and down grading cannabis is the wrong thing to do! I agree with some of the other comments even cigarettes and alcohol is a problem in today’s society.

  16. margaret brandreth- jones says:

    What do you want.? Liberty, the teaching of self control, supervised control, punitive control.These are the options we need to look at , not the drugs themselves.

    It needs to start at education level.
    The media have a responsibility to educate.They create quasi Icons,who take hard drugs and are glorified for their rebellious nature., because bad news sells.

    Schools by enlarge are still in favour of a didactic approach to learning; taking personal decisions out of the childs mind, by the forcing standards and rules. Nobody wants a hard line St Trinians type of school,however encouraging children to make their own decisions by the incoropration of philosophy and ethics into the curriculum may help. John Jaques Rousseau’s self educated child is worth consideration in this respect.

    Kids and adults with a childs’ mentality ,will rebel if they are forced to not stray to drugs and alcohol perceiving it as a breach to their own freedom, yet addiction is far from freedom and self control.

    In the meantime strict regulation of all addictive drugs is the only way forward.

  17. margaret brandreth- jones says:

    I blogged earlier on Faisal’ site.

    Whilst I believe and have faith in the scientific evidence IN LAB .,drug reactions are variable in toxicity and addictiveness when individual physiologies are introduced into the equation.

    There are social factors which also complicate the full picture , availability , cost of drugs etc.

    Prof Nutt should be given more respect , but challenged in his findings, not quietened.

  18. Prince Wao of the Beautiful Earth says:

    Jon, I 100% agree with your blog, but I don’t see things ever changing for the better as no politician will do the logical, responsible thing (re any issue) if s/he believes it will lose votes (as re the drugs issue) or funding (as re global warming and many other issues). They will always want to project themselves as the most moral of beings, and as anti-drug propaganda has painted all drug users and illegal drug use as arch-immoral, their own egos won’t allow them to paint themselves with the same brush.
    I’m 58, a qualified counsellor and know a lot about the drugs issue and psychology, and I aver that the idea that the public are well-informed on this matter is utterly bogus. They are in deep ignorance. EG: most drinkers are totally unaware that alcohol is a dangerous drug (alcohol use is seen as moral and normal, illegal drug use as immoral and abnormal). This view is rife. But who in power is going to try to change it? No-one – it’s assumed to be a vote loser.
    Portugal’s not very well known total decrimilisation of drugs is the model to follow, but I see no UK politician having either the perception or guts to act logically and responsibly.

  19. adrian clarke says:

    it is time for a rethink.Just like prohibition , criminalising drugs doesnt work.There has to be an answer .First decrimialise the use of drugs but legalise it only through government release centres.That way one can keep a check on users .Criminalise the illegal supply of drugs with extortionate penalties for anyone found guilty of supply.Ban certain types of drugs

  20. Liz Jones says:

    You are certainly right that drugs policy has been singularly ineffective under successive governments – but has any modern politician the breadth of vision and moral courage to actually dare to DO anything to try to improve things? Perhaps even more worrying though is the apparent blurring that seems to have taken place in the difference between an unsupported opinion – however honestly held – and firm scientific evidence.

  21. Adrian MacRichard says:

    I believe that Prof. Nutt has had enough. As a psychopharmacologist he has more insight into the effects of pre- and proscribed drugs than many in the medical/pharmaceutical community save perhaps Dr. Alexander Shulgin. Prof. Nutt admits that these drugs may be dangerous. Cannabis may induce psychosis in people with underlying illness such as Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia, but alcohol may also have the same effect.
    As a Medicinal Chemist I can say with confidence that I would feel tired, sick and tired of politics overuling evidence based research, all the while witnessing further marginalisation and disinfranchisment of the weakest in our society. I had a mentor who is a psychiatrist and an aquentance of Dr. Nutt. He too faces the same political resistance as does Dr. Nutt. Politicians should be made to spend 1 hour in a drug treatment centre or psychiatric ward to meet the human being no-voters before taking office. The majority of drug taking (including alcohol and tobacco) is misuse not abuse, whereby the non-entity self medicates, to, in many cases, numb the pain of life, or an underlying illness. I wish Prof. Dr. Nutt well in ths efforts. (Please keep my name anonymous)

  22. acko says:

    you speak the truth, your my hero.

  23. robert woodcock says:

    It should not make us proud but facts are facts. They include that every night of every week millions of ecstasy tablets are consumed in pubs and clubs by hundreds of thousands of revellers. The A&E departments are not troubled by their foolishness except when alcohol is the trigger. Ecstasy does not make them violent, disorderly, dishonest or psychotic. The origins of our fear of it were tragic and unforgettable but the fact is that now the production of the stuff by those who profit from it has been “perfected” and the dangers it can cause have dramatically subsided. One suspects that this also true of LSD but its hallucinagenic properties probably justify its Class A status. On the subject of whether Govt advisers should have their tongues gagged I tend to the view that they should say what they want but only after their advice is ignored and then only after they have resigned. By analogy the Sir Richard Dannat story is apposite. His views may be valid. They are certainly sensational. But a Govt must be able to govern without fear of mutineers who think they can keep their jobs.

  24. adz says:

    Recreational drugs should be used in rituals, with inteligence and with liberal personal choice. You would be checked for susceptibility to any form of mental illness before and after every time you engage in each cermony. A legally certified guide would always have to be present during each ritual as when going to church to attend mass. Peyote, Ayahuasca, the Coca leaf, Opium and Cannabis use, would be the only forms allowed.
    These rituals would enlighten people in at least 80% of cases and that is a fact. Illegal substances bring you in contact with mother nature and we as humans would then start addressing the real problems on our planet. Thirst, famine, a global ban on plastics, global warming and lack of dialogue when natural conflicts of interest occur. It’s a dream, fantasy call it what you like but it would illiminate an immense portion of serious crime. Obviously taxed but in the interest of all forms of present and future life.
    adzmundo CND

  25. Mike says:

    Some fear, gravely, that it may not be recreational drugs that may come to dominate our concerns, although, government handling may remain a key issue, if this attached data is as credible. It would be very much

  26. Tim Rivers says:

    We know our politicians are corrupt and quite possibly in cahoots with criminals. Our government may make money from illegal sales of drugs. They certainly do not care about the health of young people who are left to the mercy of dealers as to the quality of what they buy and consume. Under state control drugs could be produced safely with detailed science proven information as to what the consumer is taking. William S Burroughs is an author all politicians should be made to read as he spells out the truth about drugs through personal experience. Prohibition has been in effect for less than a hundred years, where will we all be in another hundred. Nothing makes me more frustrated than our lack of freedom to choose as human beings what we put into our own bodies. Government current drug policy is wicked and cruel, damaging, demoralising and illuminating of a wider picture of desperate change which needs to happen to make our country a better place to live for all. Legalisation would remove the criminals, free up prisons; provide funds for those who get addicted. Raise public awareness and tolerance. The benefits are too numerous to list here. How can we the people make this change?

  27. Tom says:

    David Nutt must be careful with his media comment if he want to present a responsible argument i feel. There is a risk at times his public position fails to fully outline all important aspects of the debate which the public need to consider. He’s made very little comment following recent findings that teenagers smoking cannabis might damage their IQ permanently. Kids need to know the full picture on risks.

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