Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 680 - 699)



  680. That brings us to the biggest aspect of harm reduction, not that to the individual who chooses to take the drugs, but the huge criminality which is necessary in order to sustain a habit. As one of our earlier witnesses said, we should allow people who wish to go to hell in their own handcart to go there, at intervals pointing out the risks to them, helping those who wish to come back but recognising that we cannot actually dissuade them if that is what they want to do, indeed much of your evidence says that. What do you say to those who say legalise heroin, collapse the criminal market and thereby reduce the greatest amount of harm inflicted on society by drugs, namely the criminality that comes with it.
  (Mr Trace) The majority of the criminality being related to people needing to raise money to buy their drugs.

  681. Yes.
  (Mr Trace) I do not think you would achieve your objectives by making it cheaper for them to buy their drugs. The market analysis might move if it were an ordinary market, but I do not think you can change the basic situation of your average drug addict. Once they are hooked on heroin and any other drugs, hooked on the lifestyle related to that, they will continue to commit crimes. The only way to get people out of that is to find some way of helping them to understand that there is a different way to live and there is a better way to living. That is basically my commitment to treatment which I have had from my practice background, but also in terms of policy. That is where the strategy has broadly got it right.

  682. A lot of people steal because that is the only way of raising the money to feed the habit, do they not?
  (Mr Trace) The fact that they have to go to disreputable dealers on street corners and pay a lot of money for their drugs contributes to the chaos of an addict's life, there is no doubt about that. If they were going to Boots the Chemist to get their heroin or if they were receiving that heroin from a doctor, that element of the chaos in their lives would be reduced. I am saying that if somebody is living an addictive lifestyle and they are addicted to heroin, and they will always be addicted to a number of other drugs as well, just creating a licensed form of supply will not mean that those people become unchaotic and stabilised. You need to go through a treatment process with them as well.

  683. It would mean fewer people would have to travel down that road in the first place in order to have access to heroin, would it not?
  (Mr Trace) We are now in speculation. I know no more than you do about what would happen if we created those circumstances. My impression is that you would not have as significant an impact as you would hope by regularising the heroin market. The chaos and the disorder which goes with a heroin using lifestyle would be of a similar amount even if they went to Boots to get their heroin.

  684. Your advice is not to do that.
  (Mr Trace) I would also refer to my element of risk there. We really do not know where this takes us. If we got heroin policy wrong, then it could get an awful lot worse than it is now.

  685. Take ecstasy. What would you do about ecstasy?
  (Mr Trace) I am in two minds what we do on ecstasy. I certainly think the scientific arguments do justify a move from class A to class B, but because it is such an unpredictable drug and there are so many tragedies—relative to heroin a small number—so many situations where young people meet immediate harm from ecstasy that once again we have to be very careful in the messages we put out about ecstasy. One of the effective things through the 1990s was the health education we did on ecstasy, probably backed up by these statements from political authorities and other people. If you look at the surveys, young people in their late 1980s, early 1990s were saying that ecstasy was a completely harmless drug. You do those surveys now and young people are absolutely sure that ecstasy is a very risky thing to get involved in. That is good, that should be that way because it is such an unpredictable impact on just one use.

  686. You would reduce the classification of ecstasy.
  (Mr Trace) If we could do that without giving out the wrong message. I am generally critical when people talk about giving out the wrong message.

  687. Could we do it without giving out the wrong message? I am trying to pin you down because we have to draw conclusions.
  (Mr Trace) I am trying to avoid that. It is a real dilemma for decision makers because the science tells us that it is more appropriately in class B than class C. That is my view. If, as we saw in one of your previous things, anybody in authority says that that is what we should do, be it policeman, politician, all of a sudden you have newspapers all over the place saying politicians say ecstasy is okay. That is a bad thing. I do think it is a real dilemma. I am not sure what we would do to get out of that.

  688. You are unsure on that. Cocaine. Anything you would do about that?
  (Mr Trace) No. class A drug. In terms of legislative change, no, it deserves to be a class A drug. In terms of police practice, if you arrest somebody who is a cocaine user who clearly is a recreational user it comes back to the issue we were talking about: prioritisation of police resources.

  689. And we should continue to hammer the dealers.
  (Mr Trace) Yes.

  690. Even though it has no impact on the price.
  (Mr Trace) I would go back to where we started. You are not going to reduce cocaine prevalence by hammering the dealers; that is my guess, I could not say categorically. Having our law enforcement authorities battle against some very nasty criminals is the right thing to do anyway. We certainly do not give up on it.

Mr Cameron

  691. On ecstasy, we had a doctor in front of us a couple of weeks ago. Basically he said that with ecstasy, MDMA, it was not the drug which killed you it was what you did after taking the drug, either dancing all night and not drinking any water, or drinking lots of water and not dancing and your kidneys failing. Is that right?
  (Mr Trace) Broadly yes, but we do not know absolutely. One of the real problems with the synthetic drugs which we have at the moment is that there is no historical research base to say if you take this much it will do this to you. That is the great risk with synthetics. With heroin, we absolutely know you take this much and this is what it does to you. Yes, broadly I would agree with his perception.

  692. If that were right, would the answer not be to have pill testing plus education? If the scientist is right, would that not be the way to reduce harm?
  (Mr Trace) If we could say to young people who go to a club, that if they take a pill of 50mg content they are safe, but if they take 70mg they are not safe, then I could see the argument for much more pill testing.

  693. So more research is probably the answer.
  (Mr Trace) If research takes us to that conclusion, but my understanding of the science is that we can research it all we like, but we do not absolutely know how ecstasy affects the body and the brain. To answer your question, yes, research is needed to answer that question but I am not sure how long it will take the scientists to get there. The other thing about ecstasy, and this is the much more difficult area of analysing harm related to ecstasy, is that there are indications from a number of studies now that long-term mental impairment related to heavy ecstasy use is significant, but we are not going to know for ten years because we do not have a cohort we can track that on. It is there as a cloud on the horizon, but we do not absolutely know.

  694. One last point. You said about cannabis, that you thought we were near saturation point in terms of people taking it.
  (Mr Trace) I raised the prospect.

  695. You also said you were worried about children becoming drug dealers and seeing that life as attractive. Bearing that in mind, is there not an argument for decriminalisation, for taking it out of the criminal market altogether?
  (Mr Trace) Yes, there is an argument for that.

  696. If you were advising Ministers, yes or no?
  (Mr Trace) I would advise them right now to find out right now more about the dynamics of the drug markets, to see how significant an impact that has on young people. This is one thing I really do worry about, that we are not looking at it closely enough.

  Chairman: Is that a no or a yes?

Mr Cameron

  697. It is a no for the time being.
  (Mr Trace) No to which question?

  698. The legalising of cannabis.
  (Mr Trace) Yes, there is an argument to say if you took the profit motive out of moving cannabis around you would help that problem. My advice to Ministers is to look more closely at that problem before coming to a decision on it because we do not understand the dynamics that well.

Mr Malins

  699. You perhaps rightly say how important it is to hammer the dealers.
  (Mr Trace) Yes.

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