Letters: Victims of outrageous drug laws

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, Tuesday 23rd April 2013

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Thanks to Amol Rajan (19 April) for adding his voice to those of us that have been advocating the decriminalisation of drugs for, in my case, 30 years, having lost four young patients in five years in our small market town to heroin overdose, as they could not, and to this day could not, obtain their drugs legally.

Those four would be alive today if they had been allowed to receive their daily injections from a nurse in my surgery and had received the advice and care that should be open to all within the NHS. It’s an outrage that people are still dying on our streets from drug overdose and residing in custody to no benefit to anyone.

When will we wake up to the tragedy of illegal drug use? Excuse me while I go back to my glass of wine.

Dr Nick Maurice, Marlborough, Wiltshire

The Independent Drugs Commission has proposed drug consumption rooms in Brighton and Hove. These are settings where addicts can consume illegal drugs under some level of medical supervision without fear of prosecution.

Prior to developing such a centre the UK Government would need to provide Brighton and Hove Council with some form of exemption from the Misuse of Drugs Act, which makes it illegal to possess certain drugs and to allow premises to be used for their consumption. However, the effect of such an exemption could go well beyond the confines of the drug consumption room itself. A drug user arrested for possession of heroin anywhere within Brighton and Hove could simply claim that they were en route to the consumption room and that they too should be covered by the exemption extended to the consumption room.

Exempting the drug consumption room from the terms of the Misuse of Drugs Act could deliver a massive headache for the police and the courts, resolving how it is that the possession of heroin in Brighton can be legal in one street but illegal in another.

Neil McKeganey, Director, Centre for Drug Misuse Research, Glasgow

MMR: there  is no real controversy

I too like the fact that The Independent is unafraid to report on both sides of an argument, even if one side is controversial (Letter from the Editor, 20 April). However when that supposed balanced reporting is in fact just showing false balance, it starts being irresponsible. This is the case with MMR.

There is no genuine balance on this subject. On one hand we have the global medical and scientific community (including bodies such as the World Health Organisation), backed up by large numbers of well-performed, peer-reviewed studies, which overwhelmingly declare that the MMR vaccine is safe and the best vaccine to use against the triple scourges of measles, mumps and rubella.

On the other side lie a small number of anti-vaccination extremists, who reject the scientific consensus, and who have decided, based on little more than anecdotes, that vaccinations are more harmful than the terrible diseases they prevent, and who have deified a discredited researcher who made false claims about the MMR vaccine that were not supported even by his own published papers.

Reporting both views suggest there is some form of controversy about MMR when there is none. It fuels unnecessary doubts, which reduce vaccination rates and put all of us at risk.

Sometimes the most courageous thing a newspaper can do is take a stand on an issue and proclaim that MMR is safe, and saves lives.

Jo Selwood, Oxford

No one would dispute that the causes of autism are unknown and that there is no cure. I would argue, then, that any free citizen has the right to choose the single measles vaccine for their child. The inoculations for rubella and mumps can follow. 

I am aware that this decision may discomfort the shareholders of Glaxosmithkline and, in the States, the Merck Corporation. Until the MMR vaccine becomes as generically manufactured as aspirin, I shall remain a sceptic in the face of its universal promotion.

P A Reid, Sparsholt, Oxfordshire

Pandas bred to gawp at

If we really thought giant pandas were worth saving we’d stop stealing their habitat (“Even the love tunnel couldn’t get Tian Tian in the mood”, 22 April). These animals’ natural environment is being lost very fast and they will never be given it back. Instead we want to see these poor creatures, so we artificially inseminate them and lock them in zoos for people to view.

There have been more than 300 giant pandas now mass produced in China (most by AI). Mothers used as breeding machines; cubs taken from them at birth – causing great stress to mother and cub.  Cubs then grown up without many natural instincts passed down from the mother. Over 47 zoos have now rented (at huge sums) Giant Pandas from the Chinese. 

I have a suspicion that these zoo “conservationists” would rather these animals stayed rare as that is how you get loads of dosh from people who wish to gawp at pandas.

Sara Starkey, Tonbridge, Kent

Someone needs that bedroom

It is not often that I find myself in agreement with George Osborne, but I believe that many critics of the Government’s changes to welfare are ill-informed, particularly when the criticisms are applied to the “bedroom tax”.

It is not a tax and I have been waiting in vain for someone to point out that the objective of the provisions regarding under-occupation of social housing is to ameliorate the sorry plight of the many thousands of families who are in accommodation which is sub-standard or severely overcrowded or, often, both.

Social housing is a national resource which needs to be used in the most efficient way to house the greatest possible number of families in adequate housing. Every piece of legislation which involves change gives rise to winners and losers, but the  media concentrates on the plight of the loser.

John Charman, Birchington, Kent

Music for Dutch royal ceremony

Monarchy is about tradition and how history has shaped us. Popular music and culture, especially representing our new ethnic diversity, is quite rightly widely promoted and enjoyed; but royal religious ceremonies offer rare opportunities for the wider community to be drawn into a very small corner of the classical music repertoire.

The Proms, the National Theatre, the RSC and others do a great job, and there are of pockets of excellence away from London’s artistic predominance; but compared with Germany, for example, serious music and theatre have a very narrow support base in the country at large, in the face of the constant British media obsession with popular culture. 

Establishing a better balance between popular culture and the higher arts is one of the big issues with which Tony Hall and the BBC are going to have to grapple (no government will, for sure), and we could do without populist leaders in The Independent (22 April).

Gavin Turner, Gunton, Norfolk

Good deeds, with or without God

It may be that some religious people are motivated to do “good deeds”, as David Hooley claims (letter, 20 April), by “the need to obey the commands of a god or at least to avoid its displeasure”. But to impute such motives to all people of faith would be no more than wishful thinking on his part. 

While we are all influenced by all sorts of considerations, I would think that for most religious people most of the time the dominant reason for loving their neighbour is simply that it is a natural impulse – the same “fellow-feeling” which Mr Hooley claims for the non-religious.

But doing good deeds can be costly in all sorts of ways, and on occasion we would all prefer not to bother. For religious people, that impulse is to be resisted; not, as Mr Hooley surmises, because we feel our obedience to God’s commands is enforced in some way, but because we want to respond to the generosity and love of God by extending the same values to others, trusting that by imitating him we will draw nearer to him.

Surely we can celebrate the good deeds done by those who do not regard themselves as religious without impugning the motives of those who do.

Adrian West, London N21

State boarding school row

It was with a certain incredulity that I read of the forced resignation of Chichester Councillor John Cherry for his “unacceptable” opposition to a free state boarding school in Sussex for children from inner London (report 22 April).

Some 30 years ago I was chaplain to such a school, which had an outstanding staff, excellent facilities and reasonable success rates. It was closed down on the basis that it was unjustifiable to move children so far from home at a prohibitive cost when it would be more effective to care for them in their home surroundings. So what’s changed?

Dominic Kirkham, Manchester

Migrant ‘slaves’

Justice for one migrant domestic worker, but only after many years and interventions on her behalf (“Raped beaten and enslaved”, 20 April). Unfortunately, for many of the other migrant domestic workers we support at Kalayaan this is unlikely: in April 2012 the Government changed the visa for migrant domestic workers, tying them to their employers.

Cases such as this demonstrate clearly the abuse which can result from workers being unable to leave and the importance of reinstating this most basic protection.

Kate Roberts, Community Advocate, Kalayaan, London W11

‘Rabble’ replies

Ian Poole remembers the Liverpool public in the 1980s as a “howling rabble” (letter, 20 April). As one who attended several open municipal meetings in the mid-80s as a non-howling member of what I thought was the electorate, I wonder how one is to know when the public has turned into the many-headed beast so charmingly described as a “rabble”? Does the mutation occur when too many of them are working-class and left-wing, and don’t know their place?

Peter McKenna, Liverpool

Illegal war

Neither of your two correspondents (20, 22 April) appears to have read Tom Bingham’s The Rule of Law, which demolishes the case for the legality of the Iraq war.

William Robert Haines, Shrewsbury

Funeral expenses

Reality check. Number of council houses that had to be sold to pay for Thatcher’s funeral: 1,000.

Peter Neale, Chelmsford, Essex