Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1140 - 1159)



  1140. Would the other two witnesses agree with me? The pro drug lobby, if I can use that term, have glossed over the road deaths, the drug-related deaths. Until this inquiry started I was not aware of the magnitude of people dying in road crashes because of drugs.
  (Mrs Brett) I quoted earlier about cannabis-related deaths in equal numbers to alcohol-related. There is one huge problem with cannabis


  1141. Can you tell us your source for the equal numbers?
  (Mrs Brett) It is in one of the American papers I have, I cannot quote it off the top of my head.

  1142. Would you let us have the source for that?
  (Mrs Brett) I will send that to you. Testing for cannabis is very, very tricky. Cannabis, Professor Greenfield touched on this, dissolves in fat. I will try not to get too biological, the membranes of our cells are about 60 per cent or 70 per cent fat and THC dissolves in that fat. About 50 per cent is still there after five or six days, and still 10 per cent a month later. If you test for it after that you will get traces because you can take hair samples, urine samples and you will get traces. If you test a driver for cannabis and you get a positive test he may have used it three weeks ago. It is almost impossible at the moment to tie up with cannabis. The figures I have quoted were that cannabis was implicated in accidents. Can you see the problem? The intoxicating effects on the actual driving would last up to about 48 hours. There is a classic experiment they did, not on cars but on planes, airline pilots, they put a group of them on to flight simulators, it was a double blind experiment, and then they got them to land their planes. There is a graph of Performance Decrement shoots up, obviously the control group is steady, along the bottom they are very good, it shoots up and it comes down on the ones who had cannabis, and it does not level off to beyond 48 hours afterwards. That is the problem with cannabis. If you have a joint today you should not be driving tomorrow and you certainly should not be flying a plane.

Bob Russell

  1143. You made reference in your evidence to this new equipment, that there was an insufficient number of police being trained, are the Police Federation doing anything to get management to take this more seriously than they are?
  (Mr Broughton) We have been banging on about police training for many years, and we discussed it in this room at some stage. We are very keen that the quality and the professionalism of policing is improved, that is one of the areas we have been making a point about. Traffic policing is not the most popular at the moment. Traffic officers are being moved from those duties in London at the moment. There is always a debate about what policing should be in terms of traffic. I used to have on the top of my head the number of deaths a year, is it 5,000 deaths on our roads every year, which is a significant number of people that are killed.


  1144. There were 3,500.
  (Mr Broughton) A significant number of people are dying on the roads and alcohol has been the issue for accident prevention for so many years, and I think the issue about drugs, and Mary puts it very well in relation to cannabis, it is not easy in terms of testing to make an assessment about whether the test shows positive and it has an effect on driving. That is why we are talking about training, there needs to be a good assessment of chemicals that people might take or the drugs that people might take that effect the way they drive, and that is about training and about improving equipment.

Bob Russell

  1145. To put those roads death into context, whether it is 3,500 or 5,000 per year the minimum number is ten people every day being killed on our roads, and we are told that two of those ten are drug-related. I guess my final question is, what are you and others doing to highlight the road deaths aspect that is drugs-related?
  (Mr Raynes) It is just another strand. We do not select that particularly, the NDPA is not selecting that, we are after prevention altogether. There is something in our evidence about it and we will provide you with more written information we have about the American information.

  Bob Russell: I suggest you highlight the road deaths.

Mr Prosser

  1146. I would like to take you back to the issue of prescribing drugs and heroin. If heroin addicts could take their drugs legally and cheaply would you expect a reduction in acquisitive crime as opposed to violent crime and being under the influence?
  (Mr Broughton) I would, and it is anecdotal again. The perception is that the top end of heroin users are a group which are buying drugs and cutting drugs and selling drugs and there is a cycle of the movement of drugs and the quality of drugs and the hygienic issues in relation to drugs. There is a huge problem about that group, this is not a large group of people, this is a fairly small group of people, who are addicted to heroin and intravenously injecting. That group is a particular problem, for which there is a solution, which has been tried else where. Standing outside a tube station in South London last night were six young men that were addicted to crack cocaine. They are, again, a different group of people who are using crack cocaine and they are a very, very difficult group as well, who are engaged in crime in terms of robbery or other crime to finance their drugs. As I said, it is a very complicated subject, because you have to identify all the different strands of where people are in relation to the drug culture. The heroin user seems to me to be a group that you could identify and attempt to handle and, dare I say, manage in terms of their addiction. That is not true of these crack cocaine users. I think that if you deal with any of those groups in that wide range of drugs you can, I think, identify where they are involved in crime and how they are involved in crime. There are some pretty desperate crimes being committed by some desperate people involved in those groups. Whether or not it would be a huge impact in terms of the reduction in crime I doubt it. I think the crack cocaine users are probably a group which are committing an awful lot of street robberies. The heroin users, you know, again I am being anecdotal, I do not have evidence for this, my feeling from what I am hearing is that is a group that is involved in a different sort of crime, they tend to be dealing, they tend to be living on their wits and they are a desperate group, which is attractive to trying to control and manage that particular group.

  1147. In your evidence, and we have had similar evidence from others, you make the point that if we had a situation of prescribing and providing safe heroin the amount of use would increase and the amount of violent crime and crimes associated with being under the influence of drugs will increase. Although it might be anecdotal again, what would the proportion be in the amount of crime related to satisfying a habit, a craving, as opposed to being committed under the influence. Is it possible to make a proportion between the two?
  (Mr Broughton) It is a common understanding that people are committing crime to fund their drug habit, that, I think, can go right across the board. It is to a different intensity and a different type of crime in different categories and, of course, that is not always true, it is a confused situation. I think it is really controversial to prescribe heroin under certain conditions and the conditions that I am talking about are in a secure place with no leakage and with proper medical support. When you have a policy in terms of trying to reduce or take people off heroin it is again a discussion which needs to be part of that debate. It seems to me that whilst that is controversial and whilst there will be obviously difficulties with that, with those people still wanting more, it just seems to me that that is a part of this problem that is interesting to discuss, how you manage a particular problem. In the same way if you are dealing with 12 year olds smoking cannabis, they are a particular group in the first or second year of comprehensive schools and why is that happening, let us target that particular problem. It seems to me you cannot generalise about drugs because as soon as you start to generalise you get it wrong.

  1148. I want to move now to the effect on behaviour and drugs, which drugs would you say, even if it is an anecdotal response, predispose towards violence?
  (Mr Broughton) Crack cocaine in my experience.

  1149. Would you add any others or does that stand out starkingly on its own?
  (Mr Broughton) They are referred to as crack heads, they are desperate people. If you go late into the evening in South London you will see them.
  (Mrs Brett) If I can come in here, in the year 2001 in New Zealand they did a survey, they published it, they looked at young men from the age of birth right through to 26 and they found that young men who were using cannabis regularly were five times more likely to be violent than a control group. 40 per cent of them had mental problems, which Professor Greenfield touched on, and this compared with a threefold increase for alcoholism. The paper said, "There are three groups of mentally ill people who engage in violence, those with schizophrenia, those dependent on alcohol and those dependent on cannabis". The evidence is coming through more and more about cannabis and violence. At a guess, this is presumably caused by the fact that cannabis can precipitate a very acute paranoid psychosis, which means they do not know what they are doing.

  1150. Other evidence we received said cannabis tends to make you relax and quiet rather than violent?
  (Mrs Brett) This used to be the case with milder types, now with the stronger types that are on the streets and readily available it is more likely that you will get a precipitation into psychosis. Cannabis has also been tied up and more or less proved to exacerbate schizophrenia, whether it causes it or not the court is still out. The Swedes have done huge experiments on this with their conscripts, they looked at 50,000 at one point who entered the service at the age of 19 and those who had used cannabis more than 50 times were six times more likely to develop schizophrenia in the following years—it ran over about 15 years—than 19 year olds who had never used cannabis. It is this exacerbation and triggering of psychosis in these sort of conditions that is triggering violence.

  1151. These scientific appraisals or written from a particular viewpoint?
  (Mrs Brett) This is a scientific study from New Zealand.


  1152. Do you have any details of those?
  (Mrs Brett) I have the details at home, it is by Dr Louise Arseneault, who is a psychiatrist, who presented the evidence to a talk at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, I think it was March of last year, and was quoted widely. I have details at home and I can send you a copy.

  1153. Thank you.
  (Mr Raynes) I think you are trying to separate two things. I have a habit of saying to people asking about drugs, "everything you have ever been told about drugs is true or partially true from whichever side of the argument you get it". Some people can have a drink of alcohol and be violent, we see a lot of young people doing that. We also know some people will have a drink and go to sleep in front of the fire. I think what Mary is talking about is the increase in psychotic episodes, particularly in young people in their early teens. I know from talking to my daughter, who is a school teacher, there is a particularly susceptible time in their early teens for young people, particularly boys, when cannabis can have a really profound effect. It is probably a pre-existing condition in them which is amplified and brought out by cannabis, that is one of its biggest dangers. When you are told cannabis causes you to be sleepy and happy in the corner, true, and when you are told by Mary it causes psychotic episodes, true.

Mr Prosser

  1154. If it varies so much, does that mean it is almost impossible to have scientific appraisal of the effects?
  (Mrs Brett) It is not impossible. I shall look up this paper and see if they could determine what the THC strength was, which is something that I have not elicited from the paper. They did an enormous amount of side issue experiments and they took out certain predisposing factors, maybe they had been abused as children, all that sort of thing. It is a huge research paper, very convincing.
  (Mr Raynes) Have you had Professor John Henry in front of you?


  1155. We have.
  (Mr Raynes) He is somebody that NDPA talks to a lot and we have a lot of respect for what he says. One of the things he said to Peter Stoker and I is science is very near to determining what causes some people to have particular problems with substance use. We know that some people are predisposed to abuse cigarettes and alcohol and some people, the same sort of people, will have problems with other drugs. If there is a genetic component I understood from him science is very close to finding that, which means that the effects on a substantial portion of the population for lots of substances can be found.

Mr Prosser

  1156. Coming back to the crime issue, can you tell us what proportion of crime, all crime, acquisitive crime and violent crime, is associated with being under the influence of drugs. Is there a figure for that?
  (Mr Broughton) I am sure there are figures on that, perhaps we can get back to you on the detail of that. In polls at police stations in relation to all sorts of offences there has been various attempts to try and identify what level of drug use there is in offences. The figures have been very high, 60 per cent or 70 per cent of all crime, whether it be shoplifting, motor vehicle crime, burglary or even street robberies, and the rest, where a high proportion, mainly because these are usually young men who are committing these crimes and that group is a group which is using drugs. Whether or not this relates to they are committing crime to get the money to buy drugs is a slightly different question, which I think is probably more interesting than just the fact that 90 per cent of those people shoplifting have smoked cannabis in the week or so before or can be tested to have cannabis in their system or ecstasy or any other drug, that is the more interesting question. The one that we are all trying to understand and evaluate is, is most crime committed to finance the purchase or the use of drugs? I think it is not as clear as that, but I think it is certainly clear that lots of people who commit crime are drug users as well.

  1157. What if I narrowed it down to under the influence of drugs rather than as a means of satisfying a craving.
  (Mr Broughton) I do not have firm facts and figures, anecdotally, and my perception is that the group that are committing crime are the same group using cannabis, ecstasy and some other drugs, that seems to be the perception that is going on in the Police Service.

  1158. Can you compare it with the numbers under the influence of alcohol or is that again blurred?
  (Mr Broughton) The same group that take drugs, smoke tobacco and drink lager and alcopops.

  1159. Lastly, and Mr Raynes has given us a firm view of that, what effect do you think it would have on the economy of organised crime? What impact would the decriminalisation of the provision of drugs on prescription have on destroying that platform?
  (Mr Raynes) It does not destroy the platform. The criminal organisations exist and they will deal in anything they can make a turn on, make a profit on, it does not decrease and it is often used as an argument to take a crime out. It will not stop. In Italy 50 per cent of the cigarette market is illegal. I know my ex-colleague Mr Burns said the same thing to you, we would be at one on that.
  (Mr Broughton) I missed the question.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 22 May 2002