Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Linda Lee (DP067)

My name is Linda Lee. I lost my son to a heroin overdose on 5 October 2011. I have comprehensive personal and professional knowledge of drug and alcohol treatment in the UK. I trained at the Royal College of General Practioners (RCGP) when I undertook the Certificate in the Management of Drug Misuse in 2005 and Management of Alcohol use in Primary Care in 2010. I also facilitated at many of the IDTS trainings for prisons several years ago.

I have been the national advocate for people in drug treatment for five years. We are a small charitable organisation that has service users at the helm and our work is clinically led but based in realism. Sadly, due to lack of funding opportunities in these times of austerity measures two of my colleagues and I were made redundant just before Christmas so our much needed work may not continue.

From what I have witnessed the Governments 2010 drug strategy, although very well thought out, is not based wholly on solid ground, one of the main reasons being that no policy or organisation in the world will ever stop people taking drugs in the first place. It is part of the human conditioning to experiment and explore and nobody ever sets out to become dependent or addicted to any substance.

We also have the paradox of the drugs alcohol and nicotine being legal and the cause of most drug related deaths and violence and harms to society.

The government should focus on reducing supply of illegal drugs but I think this should stand alone as it is mission impossible to control a multi-billion pound industry. There are two options; legalise and control all drugs, cut out the criminal element or continue with the facade. All the while this battle goes on those who are dependent on legal and illegal drugs are dying. The main focus should be on treatment not punishment.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/opium-brides

If the above link doesn’t make the Home Office see reason then nothing will.

As I can’t see certain drugs being legalised then the focus has to be on recovery and providing a safety net for those that become ensnared. Unfortunately once again the principles of the drug strategy, although well thought out and comprehensive have not been grounded in reality. The empathis on abstinence as opposed to medically assisted recovery has caused untold harm to many clients because services are being led by this and their policies are now not fit for purpose. Addiction is medically termed as a “chronically relapsing condition”.

The competition for services for funding and results is causing a smoke screen and their so called successes are in fact costing people their recovery capital and in the worst case scenario their lives. If you go into the clinical evidence written by Mary Jean Kreek you will see that some people who have used opiates long term no longer have natural endorphins and will be reliant on opioid replacement therapy for maybe the rest of their lives. Where does this leave the people who have been forced off their methadone or buprenorphine prescription? Relapse, re-entry into crime, exposure to BBV’s a, total loss of stability and maybe a death sentence.

How do you think it feels to have all aspects of your health and life totally dependent on a medication that a service can sanction and stop at any time The Department of Health clinical guidelines clearly state many times that people should have treatment tailored to their needs, nobody should be coerced to reduce or stop their medication or forced into abstinence because history has clearly shown this does not work.

What is not taken fully into account is that forcing people to reduce their prescriptions against their will actually breaches their human rights, eg:

This is an excerpt from the Human Rights Act guide:

“What is inhuman treatment or punishment?

3.24 Inhuman treatment or punishment is less severe than torture. Circumstances in which inhuman treatment or punishment can arise include:

serious physical assaults;

the use of psychological interrogation techniques;

inhuman detention conditions or restraints;

failing to provide or withdrawing proper medical help to a person with a serious illness a threat of torture, if it is real and immediate.”

Also

2.4
“Since the Human Rights Act came into force, people have been able to argue that a decision violated their rights by being, for example, a disproportionate interference with the right to respect for private or family life. So the language of human rights is becoming more and more a common way of judging whether a public authority has acted unlawfully.”

If the Home Office want to reduce drug related deaths then listen to what the Service Users have to say about what they need from a service. Improve services, invest in treatment not punishment. It costs £40,000 a year to keep someone in prison and punish them for offences related to drug related crime. Multiply that by 88,000 and rising! This money is being paid to treat the symptoms of a sick society instead of tackling the cause and that money should be used on preventative treatment, housing, employment, education, healthcare and treatment.

What I have also witnessed many times are people transferring their substance use from heroin to alcohol. They consider themselves as ‘clean’ from opiates and successful in abstinence but the truth is their dependency has not been treated and their underlying problems have not been addressed.

I have witnessed extreme social exclusion because of substance use but consider the largest and most important problem being unaddressed is “dual diagnosis”. I have researched this widely. My son had a dual diagnosis and dual diagnosis is considered to be expected in both mental health services and drug treatment and as yet, the services have still not got their act together to meet this need. Most people in prison have two or more mental health disorders and around 60% of these are addicted to substances yet prison has a suicide rate 14 times higher than in the community. People are being punished not treated and the vulnerable are being locked up with the dangerous.

If mental health problems are the reason behind why many people are resorting to using substances to self-medicate then why is government cutting funding to these services when they are the root cause?

The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs should be measured by lives saved not money.

As for sustained employment: Consider this, I have witnessed many people doing well in long term employment suddenly losing their jobs because the employer has found out they are on methadone or burenorphine or suboxone even though they have performed perfectly well. Also, DVLA will take away someone’s licence for a year after they have detoxed. It seems that once someone has become socially excluded there’s no way back for some. The Disability Discrimination Act even discriminates against and excludes substance use so there is no recourse for that person.

January 2012

Prepared 8th December 2012