Heroin addict fails in plea for review of prison ruling

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The Independent Online
A HEROIN addict's request for a judicial review of a prison authority's refusal to let him take a drug which eases withdrawal symptoms was rejected by the High Court yesterday.

Two judges ruled that the decision by officials at Armley prison in Leeds, to deny Malcolm Rhodes methadone and alter his detoxification programme by substituting other drugs could not be challenged in the courts.

Rhodes, 31, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, is considering whether to appeal against yesterday's decision. He is in prison awaiting sentence after being convicted last week of assault.

Dr Michael Ross, his family doctor, said yesterday: 'I visited him in prison and he was obviously having withdrawal problems. He had lost weight and was pathologically anxious and depressed.'

Terry Munyard, counsel for Rhodes, told the court that he was applying for the judicial review because it was unreasonable of the prison authorities to have refused him methadone, with which Dr Ross had been treating him for eight months.

During that time Rhodes, who has been a heroin addict for 12 years, had reduced his daily intake of methadone from 110 milligrammes per day to 50.

Interrupting this would 'return him to square one' and affect both his physical and mental health. Affidavits from two doctors alleged that this amounts to neglect and is unethical. Mr Munyard said there is also a risk that without methadone Rhodes will obtain heroin from other prisoners and inject it using needles infected with the HIV virus.

But David Pannick QC, counsel for the Prison Service, said that methadone had never been used at Armley jail and three drugs are being given to him as an alternative. These are dihydrocodeine, a painkiller, and thioridazine and diazepam, both tranquillisers.

'It is the view of the medical officer with responsibility for the prison that this is a satisfactory course of treatment for this applicant,' he said. 'It is my submission that it would only be in the most extreme circumstances that this court would even begin to contemplate intervening in relation to a matter of pure medical expertise.'

Lord Justice Rose, sitting with Mr Justice Waller, said although Rhodes needs detoxification and is now receiving weaker drugs to ease withdrawal, the court could not rule that the decision to refuse methadone was perverse.

His solicitor, Ruth Bundey, said afterwards: 'We are disappointed but reasonably confident that we can marshall further facts in our favour because this application has been prepared very quickly.'