Why I disagree with the call by former chief constable Paul Whitehouse for the legalisation of drugs

Posted On 17 May 2018 at 2:46 pm

The former Chief Constable of Sussex, Paul Whitehouse, has called for the legalisation of drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis.

Andy Winter

I fundamentally disagree with him on two counts: first is the practical case. The illegality of drugs make them less accessible and therefore, for many, less attractive to non-addicts.

We have seen cigarette use among young people reduce as a direct consequence of tightening up on supply.

The Medical

Would people be allowed to acquire unlimited quantities of what would become legal drugs? We have a big enough problem with the most popular legal drug of all, alcohol. Do we really want to make other drugs as easily accessible?

An unlimited supply is a most appalling prospect for the addict, their families and, in particular, their children. The nature of addiction is that the addict has no limits. They would use more drugs in greater combinations, and drug related deaths would spiral.

Methadone is legal and yet we see those on methadone “treatment” topping up with heroin and other street drugs, or the methadone enters the illegal market when sold on to other addicts.

But if supply was limited, addicts would again seek out criminal supply. There is ample evidence from trials where heroin is prescribed that those on these trials continued to “top up” with illegal street drugs with the associated violence, exploitation and crime.

The second case against legalisation of drugs is the moral one. Drugs including heroin and cocaine prevent addicts achieving their emotional, spiritual and economic potential, and drugs harm people’s physical and mental health.

I am not prepared to see countless thousands of people live a life controlled by their addiction. I want so much more for them than those advocating legalisation who seem to have given up hope, are devoid of ideas and are willing to abandon people to addiction in perpetuity – or at least until they die from an overdose.

At what age would those advocating legalisation allow people to obtain those drugs that are currently illegal? Eighteen? Sixteen? Twelve?

Surely not even the most libertarian among us would be so morally bankrupt to support legalising heroin, cocaine and cannabis for children as young as twelve.

But twelve year olds are using these drugs. Legalising drugs for those eighteen and above would immediately refocus the illegal market exclusively on children.

Paul Whitehouse

There is a moral alternative. I invite those advocating legalisation to make an uncompromising statement that heroin, cocaine and cannabis use is harmful, and that abstinence-based rehabilitation must be the overriding objective for all addicts.

People in the hell of active addiction have said this to our staff

  • “I can’t carry on in life. I have no options for the future.”
  • “I’ve lost everything I valued. I’m trapped. I want my son back in my life.”
  • “My mum died and she never saw me sober.”

The illegality of drugs for addicts is a mere inconvenience. The devastation caused by addiction is what blights their lives and those who they love and who love them. And it is not uncommon that addicts involved in the criminal justice system get into abstinence-based treatment.

Jen (not her real name) who has achieved abstinence through BHT’s Addiction Services said: “Before entering the service I was completely out of control. I was manic, confused, full of rage, argumentative and very defensive. I was in the deepest, darkest place I’ve ever been in and couldn’t see a way out.”

After treatment she said: “My life is better today, and me and my children’s future is looking brighter.”

Addicts like Jen are not calling for legalisation. They are calling for more treatment that leads to abstinence and recovery.

I can’t imagine any of those advocating legalisation would want their sons or daughters to spend any part of their lives addicted to heroin, cocaine or cannabis. And that’s not because these drugs are illegal.

Recovery from addiction is possible. We just have to make that the priority.

Andy Winter is the chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust (BHT). His personal blog can be found here.

  1. Rob Reply

    surprising how clueless this person is about this issue considering his background!

  2. Steve Rolles Reply

    “The illegality of drugs make them less accessible” – drugs are freely available to anyone who wants them. Legal regulation means we control availability, not gangsters.

    “We have seen cigarette use among young people reduce as a direct consequence of tightening up on supply.” – that was more effective regulation, combined with effective public health education. No prohibtion and no crimainlisation of users involved. Note how, at the same time cigarette use has been falling illegal drug use has been rising.

    “Would people be allowed to acquire unlimited quantities of what would become legal drugs?” – No – we have proposed a registered buyer / rationed sales model, similar to that sed in some counties for pharma ceuticals. So your following arguments are straw men.

    “Methadone is legal and yet we see those on methadone “treatment” topping up with heroin and other street drugs” – this may be because their prescription is inadequate, or because they are being prescribed the wrong substitute (many may do better on prescribed heroin for example). Either way their street drug use is still reduced – whihc is an objectively good thing – even if not a perfect outcome. PRAGMATISM

    “or the methadone enters the illegal market when sold on to other addicts.” – not when consumption is supervised.

    “There is ample evidence from trials where heroin is prescribed that those on these trials continued to “top up” with illegal street drugs with the associated violence, exploitation and crime.”
    – Yes but there is also ample evidence that street drug use (and associated problems DROPS DRAMATICALLY. The perfect is the enemy of the good etc.

    “I want so much more for them than those advocating legalisation who seem to have given up hope, are devoid of ideas and are willing to abandon people to addiction in perpetuity – or at least until they die from an overdose.” – this is offensive and ridiculous. You are the one advocating for the status quo that has so transparently failed. You are the one with no new ideas. We seek to support people with drug problems, and keep them alive (many of the risks they face are due to illegality – no one has ever died of an overdose or contracted HIV in a swiss heroin clinic~). You seem to want them punished, crimianlised- as if that will help them. How?

    How is ignoring 60 years of catastrophic failure, enriching gangsters and criminlising vulnerable marginalised people a moral position?

    “At what age would those advocating legalisation allow people to obtain those drugs that are currently illegal? Eighteen? Sixteen? Twelve?” – straw man again. we have written about this in our ‘Blueprint for regulation’ which you have obviously not read. the answer is that it will differ for different drugs in different environments. Illegal street markets – your defauly position – have no age controls whatsoever.

    “I invite those advocating legalisation to make an uncompromising statement that heroin, cocaine and cannabis use is harmful” – ofcourse they have risks – the question for you is how does giving control of the market to unregulated crimainl dealers reduce those risks (it doesnt) or deter use (it doesnt)?

    “and that abstinence-based rehabilitation must be the overriding objective for all addicts.” 1. most users arent addicts. 2. treatment decisionare for doctors and patients not you or me. Abstinence based treatment is right for some and not for others.

    “Addicts like Jen are not calling for legalisation. They are calling for more treatment” – not true – most drug users support law reform and better services

    “I can’t imagine any of those advocating legalisation would want their sons or daughters to spend any part of their lives addicted to heroin, cocaine or cannabis. And that’s not because these drugs are illegal.” – i dont think you know what those advocating reform want as it sounds like youve never talked to one. No one wants their kids to have problems with drugs – but if they did i would rather they used clean legal drugs than dirty street drugs and id rather they reached the help they needed via the health service than the criminal justice system.

    heres a collection of parents, many bereaved, who are calling for reform http://www.anyoneschild.org
    if you want to learn what regulation actually means, as opposed to your imagined version of it see http://www.tdpf.org.uk

    • Scarlet Statistician Reply

      “Legal regulation means we control availability, not gangsters.” Gangsters still control availability for anyone who wants to exceed the regulated dose. Because the heart of regulation is … exactly the prohibition you claim to detest.

      “No prohibtion and no crimainlisation of (smokers)” Simply not true – smoking is banned (aka prohibited) in public places through a system of FPNs and heavier fines for repeat offenders.

      “we have proposed a registered buyer / rationed sales model” No-one is going to use your heavily regulated purchase channels when they can get the same thing cheaper and in larger quantities from their local gangster, or via the Internet.

      “Either way their street drug use is still reduced” But not overall consumption, which is presumably the relevant public health goal. Strang et al. find that the majority of methadone addicts are still using street ‘top-ups’ and that they do so every other day.

      “evidence that street drug use (and associated problems DROPS DRAMATICALLY.” Strang’s definition of street heroin use is so convoluted it’s almost not worth getting into, but suggests that only 66% of refractory cases receiving prescribed heroin can manage without street heroin at least 50% of the time. So the evidence you claim is so dramatic really amounts to a pretty low .66 x .5 = 33% benchmark for success.

      “You are the one advocating for the status quo that has so transparently failed. You are the one with no new ideas.” Grossly unfair. He is calling for expansion of abstinence-based recovery from addiction. The status quo here in UK is that it is easier to get access to drugs than it is to access treatment.

      “the answer is that (minimum age) will differ for different drugs in different environments” But it’s pretty clear from stakeholder feedback on the proposed drug consumption room in Glasgow that this is just a euphemism for handing out regulated supplies to children provided they meet certain ‘criteria’.

      “No one wants their kids to have problems with drugs – ” Too right!

      • Steve Rolles Reply

        “Gangsters still control availability for anyone who wants to exceed the regulated dose. Because the heart of regulation is … exactly the prohibition you claim to detest.”

        If regulation is done well it should both meet most of the demand (there is little demand for overproof moonshine, or superstrength cigarettes). I dont ‘detest’ regulation – which of course establishes parameters beyond which activities are still prohibited (for exaple on very potent/risky preparations, sales to children, misselling etc). Absolutist prohibition in the face of grwoing demand is the problem, not any prohibition in any situation. im not a free market liertarian.

        “smoking is banned (aka prohibited) in public places through a system of FPNs and heavier fines for repeat offenders.”
        re previous point – yu are confusing a blanket prohibtion (radical) with regulation in which some activities or products are prohibited (normal for basically everything). No one is criminalised for posessing or using cigartees (even in non smoking areas it is a civil offence) and adults are free to buy and consume them, and licensed businesses manufacture or sell them. That really isnt prohibition.

        “No-one is going to use your heavily regulated purchase channels when they can get the same thing cheaper and in larger quantities from their local gangster, or via the Internet.”

        around a third of the Uruguay cannabis market runs on this model already and the shops only opened a few months ago. It is possible – but a balance has to be struck between controlling price and availability to dissuade use, and the threatof crimanl undercutting if restrictions are too tight. thi is exactly the challenge we face with tobacco – theres no perfect answer but at least we get to call it – not gangsters. Legal products have quality control/liability and avoidance of crimainl markets in their favour as well

        “But not overall consumption, which is presumably the relevant
        public health goal”
        Improved public health is the goal and it is one that is unambiguously delivered – through reduced ODs, HIV transmission, health and well being. There are other non public health goals aswell re crime and community safety, also delivered.

        “Strang et al. find that the majority of methadone addicts are still using street ‘top-ups’ and that they do so every other day.”
        – see my response to Andys post – same point. Its not perfect. But it is better.

        “Strang’s definition of street heroin use is so convoluted it’s almost not worth getting into, but suggests that only 66% of refractory cases receiving prescribed heroin can manage without street heroin at least 50% of the time. So the evidence you claim is so dramatic really amounts to a pretty low .66 x .5 = 33% benchmark for success.”
        Improved outcomes – hurrah. Whats your problem with improved outcomes?

        “Grossly unfair. He is calling for expansion of abstinence-based recovery from addiction. The status quo here in UK is that it is easier to get access to drugs than it is to access treatment.”
        Hang on – Ive clearly stated support for increased funding for treatment. i include abstincen based treatment within that where appropriate, but also other options wehere more appropriate. These are – as i said – decision for doctors and patients. Re new ideas – Im talking about the changing law (re decriminalisationa and options for regulation), and to a lesser extent innovative harm reduiction apporaches, although there is ofcourse some cross over

        I dont understand your comment on DCRs. Access should be according to need.

  3. Matt Reply

    same old misguided views. isn’t it time to sort housing out in Brighton Andy?

  4. Rostrum Reply

    People Addicted to drugs should be treated as victims and sick.
    If need be treatment should be mandatory.

    People who supply drugs should be treated as attempted murders and locked-up accordingly.
    Dealing, supplying and the criminality of how the money is come by and used is a scourge on society.

    This issue will never go away until is hit at both ends.

    Those advocating the legalisation of drugs are living in cloud cuckoo land.
    Poverty, homelessness and crime are all being driven by drug addiction and needs to be stamped on hard.

Leave a Reply

*