Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1360 - 1379)



  1360. How many of those do you see at PANIC?
  (Ms Williams) We get calls all the time. The calls usually come through from the parents who are asking for help for their children. In most cases, because the kids have tried to get help and it is not there, they have lost hope. It is the parents who usually approach us and then we run out and pick them up; we will pick them up from anywhere; we will go to Court with them; we will act as an advocate to get them treatment; we even go to the hospital if they are suicidal. If the psychiatrist will not take them, which is often the case . . . If you go into a detox, you usually start to get suicidal because all the hormones have gone into a depression. We will stand and argue, "They are a danger to themselves, they need to be detoxed", but we do not have specialist detoxification, we do not have specialist rehab. The only place that they can go is onto a mental health ward and that has to do because that is all we have.

Mr Prosser

  1361. Ms Williams, on a personal note, we have sat here and listened to an expert opinion from both sides of these arguments and, in my view, what I have heard in the last half-an-hour has been more moving and had more of an impact on me, albeit anecdotal but personal stories from you, than all of the other evidence that has come before us. In terms of your son asking you to call the police after he has had his shot, was that just despair or was that because sometimes going to jail is the only route in some parts of the country for getting any care and attention for an addict?
  (Ms Williams) I do not think he ever wanted to go to jail. He thought that he had to be punished, if you like. He thought he deserved to be punished because he had done something wrong and he could not stop himself. I do not think that he ever wanted to go to jail. There was a time when I did phone the police and the police came and they charged him and they went away, but the telly went again the next day. It was as though he could not help himself. He always wanted to go into residential rehabilitation, he always said he did, and we tried and we wrote letter after letter and, like I say, in the end we had to go to the Cabinet Minister.

  Mr Prosser: The other three witnesses have made it very clear that they see the actual criminality as being the major problem and the impact on people's health and their chance of survival, but you did not go quite that far.

  Chairman: I do not think all the other witnesses said that.

  Mr Prosser: Certainly Mr Gillespie and Mrs Humphreys did.

  Chairman: Yes.

Mr Prosser

  1362. I just wonder what your view is. If you had the power to change the law and change legislation, in which way would you do that to help people like your son?
  (Ms Williams) I think that, for heroin users, especially when they are damaged like they are and you have offered them methadone treatment and you have offered the things that they have on offer like Subutex, methadone and when they have been in residential rehab, if that has not worked, then you have to look at controlled prescribing of clean heroin. You do not get the physical damage: you are not going to get the hepatitis, deep vein thrombosis and other ill health that goes along with it. If my son had not gone into a residential rehab, it comes down to me as a mother saying, "I want him alive." That is the basic thing that it comes down to and that is why I would say controlled prescribing of diamorphine.

Bob Russell

  1363. Mrs Humphreys, would you agree with me that, even in the college/university environment, most young people are not regular drug users?
  (Mrs Humphreys) I do not know. I think a lot of them smoke a lot of cannabis and they certainly drink a lot of alcohol; they drink too much alcohol. I would say that actually I was more worried about them drinking more alcohol than smoking cannabis and occasionally going to a club.

  1364. I am sure that a number of people would concur with that but, coming back to my point, would you agree that most young people most of the time do not take drugs?
  (Mrs Humphreys) I do not know. I guess that you tend to do things that your peers do and there certainly is a lot of it going on. I think that, at universities, you get a lot of mature students who have all grown through it and they are probably not messing about, drinking or taking drugs as much as younger ones do their first time away from home. I am sure that there are a lot of people who never take drugs whatever education they have had, they are just not interested, but others will.

  1365. Would you think however that if drugs were legalised, not necessarily all drugs but if cannabis and ecstasy were downgraded, that might be a signal to some who were not taking drugs who wish to obey the law currently, however archaic that law may be, and may think that it is no longer illegal and therefore it is OK? Cigarettes are not illegal and alcohol is not illegal and now drugs.
  (Mrs Humphreys) It is possible that a few more might experiment but it seems to me that anybody who wants to use them uses them already.

Mr Singh

  1366. Mr Gillespie, you said in your evidence that you knew your son had gone through a chain to get to heroin. One of the debates about legalising or decriminalising cannabis is that, if you did that, cannabis is a gateway towards serious drugs and decriminalising it or legalising it would open that gateway to a lot more young people in general. Is that something that you think would happen and did happen with your son?
  (Mr Gillespie) I have to confess immediately that I regretted saying that the moment the words had left my mouth. It is not what I intended to say. I gave entirely the wrong impression. What I meant was that, when he was at school, he was introduced—and I cannot remember what the drug was—to some kind of tranquilliser that a doctor's son, who was a fellow pupil, had given him and that it moved on from there. That is what I meant by "the chain". It did not go from that drug to bigger drug to bigger drug, but that is where it started with him. What he took after that I honestly do not know. I know that he did not smoke cannabis because he was not interested and smoking was not something that interested him at all, so it was not cannabis. I am not defending cannabis in any way but I know he was not that keen on it. How he actually got into hard drugs, because by that time he was living away from home, I really do not know. I did ask him several times but I just got the raised eyebrow; you know, if you do not ask, you will not be told any lies. That was just the way he was.

  1367. I wonder if any of the other witnesses would like to comment on that.
  (Mrs Humphreys) I certainly do not think it is a gateway drug. If it were, then we would have millions of heroin addicts. Some of them may have smoked cigarettes, drunk alcohol and smoked cannabis and any of those things could be a so-called gateway drug. I think that has been disproved. There is nothing that makes anybody who tries cannabis go on to anything stronger.

  1368. In terms of services, both Ms Williams and Mr Gillespie have mentioned detox and rehab. Are there any other specific things which should be provided or should have been provided which are not?
  (Ms Williams) I think heroin users mirror the population at large, they are not all the same, and I think that you have to offer choice. They actually know what they need. If you ask them, they really do articulate that. With my son, it was residential rehab. You could go to somebody else and they might be fine on methadone. It has to be choice and, whatever it is, it has to be accessible. It has to be there when they put their hands up and say, "I need help."
  (Mr Gillespie) Answering your question, I would move it forward a little. I think the billions that we are spending at the moment on trying to pull something back that is not possible could be channelled into better education and better prevention, all these things before we get to the treatment stage, and for those kids who do not respond to either of these—there will always be people who will self-destruct; we all perhaps like a social drink and a cigar but there will always be somebody who will go over the top and become an alcoholic or whatever—there has to be proper treatment as well. If I go to a cardiac unit, the doctor is not going to say to me, "I am condemning you for eating too many cream cakes or drinking too much." It is not a moral judgment, it is something you have to fix because a person is broken. I think it would be dangerous to get into a situation where we say, "This is self-inflicted, why should we bother about people like that?" when there are other self-inflicted things that we do bother about. I think it is a little earlier than just the treatment stage. I think if we can get the education and prevention messages right and spend much, much more money and investment at that end, then there will be a bigger payoff at the other end and certainly kids would not be dying as they are at the moment. That is my view.

  1369. Mrs Humphreys, it might not be fair to ask you this question because what I am about to quote is by Mick Humphreys who is your husband.
  (Mrs Humphreys) Yes, Mick is somewhere here.

  1370. He wrote in his evidence about ". . . charities, DATs, DRGs and the vast miasmic web of management created by Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain." He wrote about that very scathingly in the sense of, "This is completely useless and it is not an answer."
  (Mrs Humphreys) I do not think I should be blamed for anything my husband said! He does get a bit "over the top".

  1371. What do you think about action teams—?
  (Mrs Humphreys) I think that sometimes they seem to think that you need a drug action team because drugs are such a huge problem, but they are not always such a huge problem. Let us have teams of people educating and all that kind of thing but really, if kids are going to take drugs, it has to be done safely. You can pour tons of money into education and go on and on and on and it might not do a whole bunch of good. Smoking education does not really seem to stop the blighters smoking, does it? I mean, they still do it.
  (Ms Williams) I am a member of our local DAT, but that is only me with one vote, if you like. It is so complicated; there are about 20 different funding streams. Although overall the area gets about £3 million to spend on drugs, very little seems to go down to the users themselves. What I find is that it is all about ticks in the boxes. You get money if you get a tick in the box. If that person is going into a methadone treatment, though they might not have got it yet but they are still in treatment, they get a tick in the box and you are paid by the ticks in the boxes. They are not actually measuring the value of the services and their effectiveness.

  1372. You are saying that money is being put into these programmes but we are not actually seeing positive results on the ground.
  (Ms Williams) Yes, I can honestly say that I do not know many clean ex-users. When you are looking at drug treatment, if you could get 50 per cent of our workers who are ex-users to work in there . . . We have a number of users but I think I know two people who are now well. There are very few well people where I live. They are really, really bad, losing limbs and dying.

  1373. Mr Sims, what is your experience?
  (Mr Sims) The thing that strikes me about the question you asked about drug action teams, for example, is that inevitably they are driven largely by the Government's 10 year strategy which actually does not mention families once. The word is mentioned in the introduction to the original document by Keith Hellawell but it is nowhere else. What tends to happen as a result of that is that the boxes sometimes are not even there to be ticked as far as family support services are concerned and, even though a lot of the needs as expressed here are needs that we hear in our consultations with families around the UK and are about people who use as they undoubtedly should be, families have a whole separate list of separate needs for themselves and other members of the family that are hardly ever addressed and, where good services are trying to address them, they tend to try and do it on limited resources and try, for example, to have the same worker working with somebody who is using as well as with the family members, and that is putting workers in an impossible situation because they are stuck between very different poles. I think that the over-emphasis on the criminal justice elements of the work in the drugs field and also the lack of sometimes even boxes to tick, other than when families, for example, are seen as avenues to helping young people or avenues to helping somebody else, all of which is important, they are rarely seen as groups in need of their own services.

Mr Cameron

  1374. First of all, I would like to agree with Mr Prosser that you have given us the most clear and the most articulate evidence that we have heard; you have given it to us straight and I am very grateful for that. Mr Gillespie, can I just ask you about your remarks regarding legalising heroin. I am surprised. I just want to understand why you go that far. When you find you have a heroin user in the family or in the community, is the priority not to get them into treatment or get them stabilised through prescribing heroin or whatever, rather than actually legalising which could mean that it is much more widely available than it is at the moment?
  (Mr Gillespie) I do understand what you are saying, Mr Cameron, but two things arise from that. To talk in terms of treatment, as I think you said, lets the thing get too far down the line. Legalising, from my point of view, is in no way advocating the wider use of drugs for more people. I do not think there is a great reservoir of disaffected youth outside of these walls waiting to rush in and use drugs. They could do it now because I could go 150 yards from this Chamber and get you whatever you wanted if I had enough money, I am sure. I would have no guarantee of its purity of what is in there: I think the stuff that killed my son was talcum powder. The reason I go for legalisation is, if the Government and the laws wish to curtail or prohibit the supply and use of drugs, if that is the wish, how can we regulate supply if we are not in charge of the power station? We have to take control away from criminals and place it back where it belongs, with us, the people. At the moment, criminals are calling the shots and we are not.

  1375. It is a very powerful argument.
  (Mr Gillespie) That is all I am saying.

  1376. Do you accept that, if you did legalise heroin, it would be even more available than it is at the moment? I accept that it is very available and is very easy to get in any town in this country, but you are making it even more available and you may therefore get even more use and, if the priority is reducing harm, is not the key getting people into treatment, whether that is a clean supply of heroin or methadone or residential treatment as quickly as possible?
  (Mr Gillespie) I think, without being presumptuous, that we are on the same side here except for the legalisation. Let me just explain what I am saying and I am not being patronising by saying this, I am probably not explaining myself properly. I cannot for the life of me see how we can expect to deal effectively and efficiently with a situation like prohibition in America between 1920 and 1933 if we are not actually in charge of the supply of the stuff ourselves. We are leaving it in the hands of criminals. What we are basically saying is that the best we can do is leave it in the hands of criminals. As a member of the public and as a bereaved father, I do not accept that. I think that the executive should take control of this, regulate supply and make sure that the stuff is clean because kids are going to use it anyway. They are going to use the stuff anyway. To answer your point specifically, no, I do not think there would be a mass upsurge of drug addiction as a result of legalising this very addictive drug if it is allowed to get into the mainstream of our society in the way it is at the moment. It is decimating our young people, it is causing enormous burdens to families whose sons and daughters are being affected by it which it need not do. We have hundreds of different toxic side-effects from tobacco and alcohol, both of which kill many, many people. There are no known medical long-term side-effects to heroin. That is not my opinion, that is the medical evidence and I have gone to a great deal of difficulty to get it. There are no long-term side-effects from heroin, none whatever, yet that is illegal and the other two are legal. I do not think, as I said before, that there is a massive reservoir outside waiting to burst through and take it and if the education and prevention message is put over properly and we take control, I do not think we can say to people, "Just because we are saying that drugs are now safe does not mean it is OK to go and do it." They are prepared to do it now when they know that drugs are unsafe.


  1377. Mr Gillespie, you are talking only about heroin, are you not? Supposing you say the same with crack cocaine.
  (Mr Gillespie) I am talking about all drugs, Chairman. I use the same analogy: how can we control the supply if we are not in charge of the power station? That is it for me.

  1378. The point put to us about crack cocaine is that it promotes violence and unpredictable behaviour. Do you agree that is so?
  (Mr Gillespie) So does alcohol, more so.

  1379. Extremely violent behaviour.
  (Mr Gillespie) So does alcohol.

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