Letter: Prescribing GPs can help drug-addicted patients as much as specialists

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The Independent Online
Sir: As one of the 'state licensed drug dealers' recommended by Commander John Grieve last week, I feel politicians and public are insufficiently aware of just how successful this rationing system was until 1971 and what has happened to it since then. By that time, the advent of cheap transatlantic travel had provided an escape for refugees from the American prohibition to a tolerant haven in England. To keep America happy yet preserve the success of a legally available drug ration, the UK responded by restricting the number of doctors 'licensed' to carry out this explicitly 'inn-keeping' role.

Unfortunately, most of the restricted number of doctors (mainly psychiatrists licensed by the Home Office) became more interested in getting addicts off their drugs than in operating the drug ration and maintaining healthy addicts. The doctors increasingly refused to prescribe, producing a 'medical' prohibition and driving the addicts to the gangsters. As addicts took to the black market, their health plummeted and crime rates soared.

Where prescribing is continued it is successful, but the benefits almost wholly accrue to the Home Office and the costs are almost wholly borne by the Department of Health. (However, the costs to the DoH would almost vanish if addicts paid the modest cost of their pure, NHS- supplied, free drugs.)

The conflicting inter-departmental messages lead to the understandable puzzlement of politicians and public.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN MARKS

Consultant Psychiatrist

Widnes, Merseyside

15 May

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