“Just say no” – UK government’s drugs policy went out of fashion with Nancy Reagan

The British government seem committed to a “new” strategy to combat the menace of drug addiction: abstinence rather than harm-reduction.  Basically, this means that addicts who want to get off harmful street drugs such as heroin should do a quick “cold turkey” then, once they’re no longer using they should “just say no”.  A brilliant, innovative idea, right?  Well, actually no: Nancy Reagan, First Lady to 1980s prez Ronald Reagan, pushed this very policy in the 80s and early 90s – and we can all see how well that worked out.

But the ConDems are now pushing for a very similar policy.  And a number of charities are united in opposition.  The group, which includes leading HIV/Aids charities Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) and the National Aids Trust (Nat), and the drugs and human rights charity Release, have delivered a highly critical letter to drugs minister Lord Henley and the prime minister, David Cameron, warning that the “recovery roadmap” in the government’s document Putting Full Recovery First would be “disastrous” for drug-dependent people.

For some time now, a “harm-reduction” approach has been taken in drugs care: it’s better to have an addict taking pharmaceutically safer substances such as methadone or Subutex rather than using possibly dirty needles to inject heroin of unknown potency which has very possibly been cut with harmful substances like bleach.  The addict who is offered methadone can safely stabilize his addiction, and then when ready he can reduce his use, hopefully to zero.

It isn’t possible to force someone to stop taking drugs – an addict can quit only when he wants to.  But the government’s plans ignore this fundamental fact. So we will  have addicts repeatedly relapsing, and our prison system will be even more clogged with drugs offenders than already.  Plus, the abstinence policy will signal the end of funding for needle exchanges, meaning the heroin addicts out there on the streets will be more at risk of blood-borne viruses like hepatitis and HIV.  And this isn’t going to deter people from taking drugs, any more than Nancy’s “Just Say No” did twenty-odd years ago.

Of course, the ConDems already know all this – they’re just looking for kindly headlines in the Daily Mail and its ilk.  Politics is everything, screw the poor fuckers whose lives you’re destroying.

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