The ‘war on drugs’ consistently ignores its greatest enemy: over-the-counter painkillers

More than 32,000 people are addicted to codeine alone in the UK

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The Independent Online

Isn’t it about time we acknowledged that 99 per cent of us take drugs? It’s just that some are legal and therefore “acceptable”. But if all drugs were defined by the harm they can cause, then the current rankings and legal penalties would be pointless.

Dealing with the long-term effects of alcohol and tobacco costs the NHS far more than dealing with those addicted to class-A drugs. Apart from liver disease and heart failure, alcohol abuse causes death on the road, domestic violence, murders and absenteeism from work. Not to mention the damage to family life and relationships. Can we put on a price on all of this and be sure it’s less than the cost of illegal drug use?

The Lib Dems have made a brave attempt to define a sensible drug policy, proposing that anyone possessing illegal substances for personal use should not be prosecuted. It’s hardly rocket science. The “war on drugs” will never be won, no matter how many penalties are imposed.

The Home Office published a report last October concluding that tough laws have little effect. In countries such as Portugal where it’s not an offence to own a small amount of drugs for personal use, the number of users hasn’t increased. In short, legislation makes no difference to personal choice.

There will always be more or less the same number of people who want to try drugs. Over the years I’ve dabbled. Back in the 1960s, I planned to put dope in my wedding cake, but the dealer didn’t show up and the cake was clean. Nevertheless, the police raided my flat, impounded my cake and submitted it to forensic testing. A few months later they returned, and I was charged with possessing a small amount of hash and fined £10. It wasn’t my hash and it wasn’t there earlier in the day, but I didn’t contest the case because I wanted to minimise bad publicity.

 

Over the years, I have taken mescaline (once) and MDMA (ecstasy) half a dozen times. I’ve had fun, but it’s risky. You never know the quality of any drug, which is why they should be legalised, sold in government-controlled shops and produced to safe standards. Cannabis – as the Lib Dems have proposed – should be available on prescription for medical reasons.

Now the Government wants to crack down on legal highs. More than 350 different substances were reported in 2013, and there are at least 250 head shops in the UK and God knows how many online. Some councils are talking of closing them down. Banning these substances will just encourage a black market, or result in users switching to illegal drugs, booze or prescription painkillers.

Which brings me to another huge drug problem, one the Government seems reluctant to acknowledge – the rampant misuse of over-the-counter painkillers. Does it think limiting the sale of Nurofen Plus and other pills containing codeine (which the liver converts to morphine) to 32 tablets at a time stops long-term abuse and addiction?

I know plenty of people – alcoholics, for example – who need the buzz from high doses of codeine. A US study found that half of the people who took codeine-based medication for three months were still taking it five years later. Another study concluded that, over time, codeine becomes less effective and actually increases sensitivity to pain. So you are taking it only for the high.

More than 32,000 people are addicted to codeine in the UK – another cost for the NHS to mop up. In the US, legal painkillers cause more deaths than guns or car accidents. And a new study says that paracetamol can double the likelihood of an early death if taken daily over a long period of time.

There are plenty of paracetamol addicts, and the drug can cause stomach bleeds and ulcers if misused. You’ll never find an honest politician who says they took recreational drugs and it was fun. I just can’t be a hypocrite. I am not an addict and I haven’t taken any drugs for a long time now. But I don’t want the nanny state to decide that some are “safer” for us than others. Anyway, if the Government legalised dope, think of the money it’d make in tax.

 

Beauty and the beast in one fashion package

The hype surrounding the V&A’s Alexander McQueen exhibition opening next week grows. A preview on Radio 4’s Front Row was a sycophantic chat with stylist Katy England and photographer Nick Knight. This is the second show devoted to Lee’s work; I loved the exhibition Daphne Guinness curated at Somerset House. Will anyone have the guts to say that these clothes might be sculptural but some are unwearable and even ugly?

Andrew Wilson’s new biography of McQueen is a sensitive portrait of a very difficult character. After reading it I had nightmares for several days. It reminded me of all the chaos, the tantrums and the madness of the fashion business which I worked in for years.

He made me a boldly striped suit for the opening of Elton John’s Aida in New York. As I arrived, Elton’s mother said in a very loud voice, “What’s Janet come as, a fucking deck chair?” I never wore it again. Lee gave me a wonderful long leather coat with a train, which I wore to a party at the Tate. I fell over on the way in (always a risk with his creations) and then an elderly posh bloke in pinstripes begged me to go back to his flat and perform unspeakable things for him.

 

A welcome addition to the dominatrix’s wardrobe

Forget Fifty Shades of Grey: the most erotic (and touching) new film about sex is the intriguingly named The Duke of Burgundy, by British director Peter Strickland. In a crumbling grand house somewhere in Eastern Europe, two women act out their S&M fantasies in a series of bizarre rituals. It has a cracking soundtrack I couldn’t forget (by Cat’s Eyes), and moments of pure genius, as well as gentle comedy.

Afterwards, I realised there hadn’t been a single man in the movie, and it’s not often you can say that. It stars Sidse Babett Knudsen, of Borgen fame, as a middle-aged dominatrix who rebels by donning pyjamas because they are “comfortable”. I know where she’s coming from.

 

Empower the young, not middle-class gender worthies

All week London’s South Bank centre has been hosting Wow, celebrating what it is to be a woman in 2015, with live broadcasts, mass mentoring sessions, uplifting speeches and comedy nights. Men get their own gig in November, at Bam (Being a Man).

I’m not a curmudgeon, but both reek of middle-class worthiness. I’d rather money was spent on “empowering” events for young people all around the country – in Rochdale and Rotherham, for example, where recent court cases indicate that some sections of the population desperately need support and encouragement to achieve their dreams and understand what is appropriate behaviour.

 

Paloma puts her faith in rock’n’roll politics

Singer Paloma Faith has decided that fans coming to see her on tour should get the benefit of some political rabble-rousing. She’s hired lefty columnist Owen Jones, once of this parish, to come on stage as the warm-up act. He says she’s worried that her fans might be seduced by Ukip or, even worse, not bother to vote after Russell Brand told them it was pointless.

I’ve got my doubts about Owen’s chances of success. I hope he’s polishing his put-downs for hecklers.

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