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Tuesday 3 November 2009
Letters: Drugs policy
Drugs adviser who spoke out and paid with his job
I agree with Bruce Anderson (Comment, 2 November). On every conceivable front, the legalisation of drugs presents itself as the most sensible, compassionate and logical conclusion. Most of our policy-makers choose to remain out of touch with the reality of the drug culture in modern Britain, although one in three British adults has taken some form of illegal drug in his or her lifetime.
It is illogical for drugs to be illegal on health grounds when alcohol and nicotine are not. There is an appalling toll of human misery caused by drugs, much of it by their illegality, not by the substances themselves. The international drug trade is worth about £250bn. Most of this goes to criminal gangs. If drugs were legal, their street value would plummet, making it impossible for organised crime to make huge profits and reduce the need for drug-takers to commit crimes to feed their habits.
I am a GP and have campaigned for years for a more liberal approach, a drug policy that recognises addiction as a sickness to be treated rather than a crime. Drug treatment can be truly effective only when the causes of social exclusion are addressed, including health inequalities and poor housing and training opportunities.
A sensible policy of regulation and control would reduce burglary, cut gun crime, bring women off the streets, clear our overflowing prisons, and raise billions in tax revenues. Drug users could buy from places where they could be sure the drugs had not been cut with dangerous, cost-saving chemicals. There would be clear information about the risks involved and guidance on how to seek treatment.
It is time to allow adults the freedom to make decisions about the harmful substances they consume. We need to learn from the studies and experience of Professor David Nutt to shape the policies on drug misuse. This government is alienating itself from the scientific community appointed to advise it.
Dr Kailash Chand
Chair, NHS Tameside and Glossop, Manchester
Of course Bruce Anderson is right. The war on dangerous drugs is not working. Have we not learned the lesson from the US attempt to prohibit alcohol in the 1920s, which spawned criminals such as Al Capone?
Before the Heath government agreed to support President Richard Nixon's war on drugs in the early 1970s by passing the Dangerous Drugs Act, we had such a thing as registered addicts, and far fewer users of drugs such as heroin. It's all gone downhill since then, with most prisoners in our jails there because of drug dependency.
North Hykeham, Lincoln
Professor Nutt's credentials are not in doubt, but his pronouncements, while based on current evidence and statistics, do not give any credence to the emerging picture and its long-term implications.
The cannabis on sale today is many times stronger than the drug that was around when Professor Nutt and his colleagues were at university. The age at which young people start to use cannabis is much younger. Indeed it has been known to be on offer at primary school gates.
Therefore, the accumulated effects of longer and stronger use are still emerging, as are the links with psychotic breakdown. Any mental health professional, psychiatrist or mental health charity will tell of the ongoing rise in psychotic breakdown caused by cannabis use. It can take many years out of a young person's life and has implications for adequately resourcing the NHS mental health trusts, as well as benefits for those who are unable to work.
Perhaps for once, by continuing with the present classification for cannabis, the Government is taking the long-term view rather than short-term expediency.
Ilkley, North Yorkshire
Has Professor David Nutt opened a can of worms that the Government does not want opened by stating that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis and ecstasy?
The Government gains no revenue from the sales of illegal drugs, but it does receive a vast revenue from the sales of alcohol. This government has gone to great lengths to make alcohol available 24 hours a day and has done little to comabat its effect.
The money that the Government has spent on sensible drinking campaigns is a drop in the ocean compared with its revenue from sales of alcohol. The sensible drinking campaigns and the recommended drinking units seem to have little or no impact.
There is a political dimension to the classification of drugs which goes beyond the remit of Professor David Nutt or any other government adviser. The legal status of a drug involves important subjective matters, such as the freedoms of the many versus the potential suffering of a few.
If a downgraded drug becomes more widely consumed, the revenue of drug dealers will increase, along with their opportunity to supply more dangerous drugs.
Thus, drug classification has to be a decision properly informed by accurate scientific advice but made by an elected politician.
Dr Sean Munro
New Labour often advocated "evidence-based policy" to prove that it was interested in "what works", instead of allegedly out-dated socialist ideology. It is now clear that if ministers do not like your evidence, they will ignore it, and sack you if you challenge their decision. The "truth" is whatever ministers want it to be. Rather like in the old Soviet Union, I guess.
Dr Pete Dorey
The Home Secretary, in sacking his drugs adviser, seems to have decided to embrace the approach of creationists. They both have their creed (in the Government's case, mostly handed down engraved on Stone Age tabloids) and where science disagrees with it, then science is obviously wrong.
What's the point of having an adviser if they don't tell you what you want to hear ?
When Solomon's son, Rehoboam, succeeded his father as King, he sought advice from his wise men on whether to continue Solomon's harsh rule, and they strongly advised against it (I Kings, chapter 12).
Rehoboam didn't like this advice, so went to his contemporaries who gave him the advice he wanted (to tell them "My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions"). The result was disastrous, resulting in a permanent split in Rehoboam's inherited kingdom.
Might our Home Secretary have something to learn from this?
CANON ANDREW WARNER
Get troops out of Afghanistan
Thirty-seven of our troops were killed, and others maimed for life, to enable the recent Afghan elections to be held. We now see an already corrupt government that retained power by electoral fraud. The attacks of 9/11 were committed by Saudis and Egyptians, not Afghans, and our invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq has increased hostility to the West and reduced, not increased, our security.
The West should accept that it cannot win in Afghanistan and withdraw before more troops are lost in a hopeless war.
Is it any wonder the West is seen as cynical and opportunistic? We had huge pressure applied to Afghanistan's President Karzai because we could not be seen to be supporting a leader who has so obviously fiddled his election as President.
In contrast, the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006 were judged by international ob-servers to be free and fair. What happened? The wrong party won and the winners, Hamas, were banned even when a unity government with Fatah was established that year. Three years later, we still have the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli attack with all the misery and destruction these have caused.
Agencies ignore sex trafficking
Joan Smith ("Make no mistake: sex trafficking is real", 29 October) provides a welcome rebuff to those who doubt the problem of sex trafficking, and is right in her assertion that women often won't come forward because of the actions of the agencies who profess to be determined to deal with the problem.
Efforts to tackle sex trafficking are not working. We often find that when our clients have disclosed their experience to the UK Border Agency, they are disbelieved. We have also seen the UKBA instigating prosecution of victims of trafficking for immigration offences, leaving the trafficker free.
We need the UKBA and the police to step up efforts to give protection to those who have experienced sex trafficking. As the lead agency in the Government's strategy to identify and make appropriate referrals for trafficked migrants, there is an urgent need for UKBA to take this responsibility seriously. We must not pretend there isn't a problem when plenty of evidence says there is.
Chief Executive, Refugee and Migrant Justice, LONDON E1
Dilemma for MPs
After MPs have been banned from employing members of their families, will an MP who marries his secretary be required to sack her? If, up until that date, she has been performing satisfactorily, will she be able to claim damages for unfair dismissal? If so, against whom?
Start tapping, Arnie
The odds are stacked even worse against Arnie than those calculated by Jonny Griffiths (letters, 31 October). Characters such as o and u appear more rarely as first letters of a word than within words, bringing the odds of plucking just those seven letters down to one in 487 billion. Extra improbabilities of letters appearing in the right order lower the chance to less than one in a million billion. Arnie might have to type 1,000 emails a day for the duration of life on Earth to generate the offending acrostic by chance.
Mihir Bose (26 October) is getting his Goons mixed up. The sitcom Goodness Gracious Me borrows its title, not from Spike Milligan but from his fellow Goon, Peter Sellers, who blacked up to play an Indian doctor opposite Sophia Loren in the 1960 film The Millionairess. Sellers and Loren recorded the song "Goodness Gracious Me" for publicity purposes, although the song did not appear in the film.
A lucky spell
How very wise of Philip Hensher (Comment, 2 November) to allow his young wizard visitor to deliberately mis-state the killing curse by saying, "Adavra Kedavra". Obviously, had he pronounced it correctly, "Avada Kedavra", there would have been a green flash, a vacancy at The Independent and a lifetime in Azkaban prison for our young friend. Whatever your view on the trick-or-treat phenomenon, no one wants that.
No class act
You ask in The Big Question (26 October) why so many pupils are making false allegations against teachers. I imagine that the answer is that there are no effective sanctions in place for pupils who do make false allegations. And what's worse, teachers exonerated by the authorities could return to school to find their malicious accuser sitting smirking in class. Until society removes this weapon from the hands of an irresponsible, immature and vindictive minority, teachers and teaching will suffer, as will recruitment to an important and worthwhile profession.
Penny for a thought
So, will we never hear small boys cry, "Euro for the Guy"?
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