A losing battle?

British Royal marine with captured Opium - from Flickr commons - see also below

I was just reading this story from the BBC about a suggestion that the Scottish cannabis crop (worth an estimated £100 million) may now be bigger than the Scottish vegetable crop.

This comes in the same week that we had the story about the sacked Government drugs adviser. As usual then, plenty of stories about drugs.

Just ask a CPN

Of course, if I wanted stories about drugs then I would need to go no further than my own students in practice or my clinical colleagues. Any of these people would be able to reel off hair raising stories about drugs in the communities around us – often we hear about the effects of these substances and their widespread availability (ok, far more often we hear about legal drugs i.e. alcohol)

Not so long back a local CPN told me that in their particular area they may as well stop asking ‘do you take drugs of any sort’ – in favour of asking ‘what do you take?’  When I was last a CPN it was pretty obvious that in some parts of town it was probably more convenient to buy Crack Cocaine or Cannabis than it was to buy, say – five portions of fruit & veg a day!

Crime

How much crime is all of this promoting?

A litle example – Not so long back my daughter was in Church with her Nan – whilst the service was in progress she noticed a man going around collecting unattended handbags. As soon as he had gathered enough he ran from the church. ‘Money for drugs’ was the assumption of the (mainly elderly) theft victims – it may not have been, but would you bet against them being right?

As well as a great deal of petty crime there is a colossal amount of organised crime – both here as well as in poorer countries. There is a suggestion that Mexico is close to buckling under the strain of fighting the drugs war as well as other Latin American nations (See link) (also this)

How many members of our armed forces have been killed or injured in Afghanistan by weapons and explosives partly funded by illegal drugs?

What do you think?

I can’t help thinking that eventually we are going to have to face the fact that the we need to look at this – where is the war on drugs heading? – are we just here to pick up the pieces?

I don’t have the answers of course but I wonder, what would you as Mental Health Nurses do?

Is my assessment over pessimistic? – or are the streets of our major cities awash with illegal drugs?

Do you think that we need more of the same – or some degree of legalised supply of drugs?

I think that Mental Health nurses are ideally placed to comment given our knowledge of what is going on.

Get back with your comments if you get a minute – feel free to do so anonymously if you want.

NB Photo at top of post from Flickr commons also on Helmandblog

(See also)

Time article ‘Drugs in Portugal’

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Comments

As pessimistic as this may seem, I think it foolish to try to wipe out the drug problem in this sountry or anywhere else. The Americans tried to do this with alcohol in the 1920’s – prohibition – and this resulted in an increase in alcohol consumption and an ensuing groth in profits for the crime syndicates.

I was once involved in a tricky problem at work. We could not see a solution to a problem. The boss simply stated ” Well, it is better to manage a problem than let the problem manage us” and from this we devloped a strategy to limit the problem. Put simply, I believe it better to have some control over the drug issue rather than no control. And lets face it, we have no control at the moment.

I am not one of those loony lefties tring to legalise drugs just so I can smoke a joint. Street drugs are dangerous. I’ll say that again – street drugs are dangerous. But alcohol? And tobacco? These are legalised drugs that are ?socially acceptable yet they do harm to people/this country. We allow these yet we do not allow current street drugs. The evidence base clearly suggests that alcohol is far worse than cannabis and ecstasy combined!!!

I stress that I am not in favour of illegal substances – but neither am I in favour of all the problems they cause whilst they are ‘hidden’. Bring them out in the open and let them be managed.

I agree with Tony to some extent, this problem is a huge ethical dilemma, as a serving Special Constable in the Police Force, almost every shift is spent locking up people on drugs who i know will be back out on those streets the next day committing crime to fund their habit and i do belive that a substantial amount of crimes are committed to fund drug habits.
However if we did legalise drugs, my own principles would be tested as i could not imagine walking down the street past people blowing cannabis smoke in my face and dealing drugs in front of my eyes, it would go against everything i beleive in, but at the end of the day, i have made a declaration to ‘discharge all the duties faithfully according to law’ so ultimately i will follow whatever law comes into place”

NB COMMENT LEFT BY EMAIL ANONYMOUSLY at 17.47 03.11.2009

I don’t see how international governments will ever have the resource to ‘win’ the war on illegal drugs: when there is a demand, there will always be a supply because it is such a lucrative business. The only way to ‘win’ is for governments to wrestle control from the corrupt criminal organisations through legalisation.

Medicine is evidence based, so why did Prof. Nutt get sacked for being scientific about the risks of illegal drugs? Why not treat drugs as a health issue rather than a criminal issue? There would be psychological benefits for users if their criminal drug-taking activity was de-stigmatised by treatment on prescription, and there would most likely be a direct reduction in street crime/domestic robberies as a result.

I think we need to move away from the moral confusion which surrounds current drugs policy and look at the bigger picture: is it morally correct to allow drugs lords to continue to run the lives of people in large parts of the developing world with bullets, just to satisfy our desire in the West for getting off our faces? Fair trade agreements don’t apply when it comes to illegal economies…

Anon 03.11.2009

Anonymous has missed the point about legalisation of drugs.Legitimate companies like Boots would be selling the drugs not street dealers. If cannabis was legal most people would grow their own. The prices of drugs would collapse and bankrupt organised crime, including the Taliban. Also people who use drugs would get clean safe drugs not the street cut drugs they take now. I nursed a fifty year old heroin addict who because he got his drugs from a GP clinic was completely healthy until he got cancer from tobacco.

Is it pessimistic to say that you will have more luck finding and buying illegal drugs, than you would have finding fruit and veg? It is definitely an amusing amplification of a social problem, that is happening in our society and part of me does not want to argue the opposite, but sadly this amplification is probably closer to the truth than I would like to admit, for reasons that are firmly routed in how this problem might be interpreted as related to a specific culture or group rather than a problem which is applicable to everyone.

Your average illegal drug user might be between the ages of 16 and 30 years, male, single, have a forensic history and come from a BME group. This is a controversial stereotype and is a stereotype that you will probably come across while in practice. The assumption that a drug user will fit into a certain profile is of course judgemental and this perception serves to do more harm then good, as it ignores the fact that drug use and addiction of any kind is prevalent in various areas of society and within various groups in society regardless of race, wealth, education or social class. Nevertheless while fighting the war on drugs the 16 and 30 year old, male, single with a forensic history and who comes from a BME group is the group on which the law enforcement agencies and the mental health service will focus their attention, and by doing so shifts the blame and focus away from powerful groups in society that are responsible for bringing the drugs into the country in the first place.

Why are drugs so prevalent in our society? And why is it common for some old lady in church, having found out that someone had stolen several handbags, to just simply say it was stolen to fund a drug habit as a motive? This is a question I wish I could answer, because at least then we might be closer to helping solve the problem, but at a guess I could argue that recreational drug use and drug addiction probably has a social cause and it is fair to say that until we can eradicate all social problems it is unlikely that drug use and addiction will stop.

However, I do not think that being a mental health nurse will give you more insight or knowledge in to what is going on with the war on drugs, because you only see people who are abusing drugs because they have severe mental health problems and whose problems are not applicable to everyone and you see less of the Amy Winehouse, Kate moss and Whitney Houston types who have more money than they know what to do with and don’t need to steal old ladies handbags to fund their addictions.

Legalisation would solve many problems. Recently having a nursing placement in a prison has really opened my eyes to the amount of drug related crime that happens.

I was also suprised to see the amount of drug use in prisons. Many prisoners suffer from mental health issues and there any many dual diagnosis cases with detox teams involvement. However the real problem in there seems to be people self medicating with street drugs – but as this is all ‘hidden’ it causes numerous problems and wastes a lot of staff resources.

I cant help but wonder how many of these prisoners would actually be in prison if drugs were legalised??

Anon 05.11.09

There are many positives and negatives to legalising drugs. All of which will have a knock on effect. It also raises a lot of questions.

For instance, the Government would have to take control over the drugs but what way would they really gain full control over them. Where would the supply of these drugs come from and how would they get to their customers? Would the government licence companies to sell them? Also, as commented earlier, I don’t think the legalisation of drugs, such as cannabis would mean it was legal to grow your own.

My big gripe would be how it was regulated. Would these companies that did sell these drugs be making a profit on them as I think it would be wholly unethical to make money out of such things. Also as we have seen with cigarettes, it costs us as a society billion of pounds in terms of the cost to NHS, death reducing tax income although we do make an awful lot on taxing the things.

Even though cigarettes are sold legally, you still get people buying them illegally from people importing them, either from holidays or though organised crime. Whatever price the drugs were sold at, you will always get people trying to undercut the legitimate sale of these products. Anyone thinking that the sale of street drugs by legitimate vendors will eradicate crime is naive to the extreme. By undercutting the legal drugs crime organisations will be forced to use even more violent and dangerous avenues to get their money. This could mean a huge increase in importation from countries that do not support that these drugs should be legal. One would also suspect that as the legal drugs wouldn’t be cheap, crime gangs would be even more likely to cut the drugs to make up for the money they are losing.

I think the problem of street drugs are not from the drugs themselves, but the reason people feel they need to use them. As a student MH nurse I get extremely frustrated when a whole admission which can last for weeks, then subsequent treatment by Home Treatment teams or etc all due to someone smoking as little as one spliff. The need for people to self medicate is obviously indicating that we are not doing enough for them. Ideally therapies such a CBT would always be offered and available, medication which works perfectly for people first time would be great, medication that does not cost £200 for each injection leading some professionals feel under pressure not to over prescribe these. I really feel as a health service we are failing so many people that to be honest, self medicating can be the only answer to many.

many view points all relevant – however legalising cannabis would go along way to crippling the illegal drug trade as regards cannabis, but would the dealers suppliers etc then not move over to the supply of harder drugs. Thrusting a deeper wound into our comunities?. These may then be viewed less harsher drugs in view of a legalisation of cannabis. Although evidence may suggest that alcahol is more damaging to people and their communities than cannabis, is that not only because we do not know the true extent of the damage that cannabis does create because it is an illegal trade?.. Yes its effects on the community would be able to be assessed more realistically should it be legalised but then would it not create a cannabis dependency more so, only to be blamed upon the government FOR leagalising it. So my view is really no definately not to be legalised, beter the devil you know…..

In the recent past smoking tobacco in public enclosed places has been made illegal, there is an extremely intense effort going into helping people quit smoking – it drains the NHS something drastic with all the related diseases and ailments. statistics are showing a decrease in heart related illnesses since the smoking ban. Cannabis is for the most part smoked so i ask rhetorically how can it be legalised ?

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