stumbled into treatment with a grade A heroin habit and a whole host of illusions just waiting to be shattered . The treatment system back in the ’ 80s featured injecting or rather the desire to stop injecting – the reason for this was nothing to do with healthcare for drug users and everything to do with stopping drug users spreading HIV to polite society .
In the ’ 90s the arrival of New Labour – tough on crime , tough on the causes of crime – moved the aim of treatment onwards , and now maintenance prescribing became vogue . Scripts and script sizes multiplied and grew to ensure drug users were nodding at home rather than out robbing your car . Again , the change in policy was more to do with cutting crime statistics than improving the lives of drug users . As an aside , if you described a society in which dissidents were made to take a heavy psychoactive drug , like methadone , you ’ d presume the country was some Eastern European cold war dive , not England . Yet it happened here . Then came the coalition government and their recovery agenda which – call me cynical – I believe was mainly about reducing the cost of treatment by producing economically productive members of society out of drug users , no matter how hard it was to force drug users into sobriety , and productivity , as the graveyards attest .
Project ADDER and the above pronouncements suggest current changes will be a case of it being , in the words of the late , great Yogi Berra , ‘ deja vu all over again ’. It ’ s yet more policy from politicians who don ’ t really care about something they don ’ t understand or really care to understand , and its aim is most definitely not about helping drug users . It ’ s not really surprising drug use and users are always an afterthought for politicians – there aren ’ t enough of us ( about 300,000 in treatment ) when compared against other vulnerable groups . As well as being short of
‘ Drug treatment is not for drug users , rather it is an attempt to protect society from drug users . I appreciate some readers might be wincing or exhibiting anger at this point , but hear me out .’
numbers , drug treatment also falls victim to being short of time too . Policy runs on a four-year electoral cycle and many changes to drug treatment won ’ t bear fruit quickly enough – if you ’ re the minister for health or the home secretary what ’ s the point of enacting policy , often at great expense , if it doesn ’ t show positive results before the next election ?
Whatever the reasons , it ’ s clear that drug treatment is primarily about protecting wider society . If ADDER is good for anything it ’ s as an illustration of policy aims which are yet more of the long-failed criminal justice-based policies . ADDER might be new , but it ’ s philosophy and aims are old as the hills .
Any considerations of the needs of drug users are secondary – an afterthought . Here ’ s a parlour game to prove the point . Get a pen and piece of paper and design a basic treatment system that promotes drug users ’ health and wellbeing . I bet it looks fuck all like the system we have . A system that hopelessly fails drug users on any reasonable terms , and ironically doesn ’ t do much for wider society either . It might be time for an honest conversation about the true purpose of drug treatment , for everyone ’ s sake .
Nick Goldstein is a service user
They said what ..?
Spotlight on the national media
‘ It is incredible that he cannot , or will not , see the link between poor communities ripped apart by gang warfare , wrecked lives of people unable to access safe supplies or treatment , and his own pathetic policies of prohibition .’
SPIN DOCTORS TELL JOURNALISTS the prime minister , who has taken drugs in the past , as have prominent ministerial colleagues , thinks they ‘ lie behind not just crime but a host of social problems ’, while he fights a culture war over cannabis . It is incredible that he cannot , or will not , see the link between poor communities ripped apart by gang warfare , wrecked lives of people unable to access safe supplies or treatment , and his own pathetic policies of prohibition . Meanwhile , the pandemic has fuelled mental health problems and substance abuse , storing up long-term problems including fresh addiction cases . Ian Birrell , inews , 12 April
THE TRUTH IS that legalisation is inevitable . Every day that our politicians put it off they cause more harm . Another child is sold strong skunk on the street . Another young girl is groomed into using hard drugs by being offered some new clothes and a ‘ bit of weed ’. Another young man is stabbed to death in some stupid dispute over territory , the sort of argument that is dealt with by normal business methods in places where cannabis is legally regulated . Peter Reynolds , Express , 8 April
TERRIBLE THINGS SOMETIMES HAPPEN , true enough , but parents know full well that the worst impact that any soft drug use is likely to have on their children ’ s futures will come not from taking it but from the legal consequences to which that might lead . For the most part the public doesn ’ t want cannabis to be illegal , the police don ’ t want to routinely arrest people for using it and the government doesn ’ t particularly have the stomach to ask them to . And yet still we pretend . Hugo Rifkind , Times , 12 April
ONE OF THE STRONGEST ARGUMENTS against legalisation is that its track record is decidedly mixed . When Canada became the first leading economy to legalise in 2018 , it was predicted there would be a ‘ green rush ’ – a cannabis-inspired economic boom . That has not materialised . Nor has legalisation destroyed the illegal market , as many of its proponents claimed it would . In the first year after the law change , fewer than a third of Canadian cannabis smokers obtained all of their supplies legally . Sales of legal cannabis in Canada have more than doubled in the past two years but the legal industry is still having to cut prices to compete with the illegal one . James Forsyth , Times , 9 April
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