Pubdate: Sun, 12 May 2002
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2002
Author: David Bamber
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


DRUGS advice agencies are encouraging young people to experiment with 
illegal substances and should be stripped of public funding, an influential 
report by senior MPs will say next week.

The final report of the House of Commons home affairs select committee 
inquiry into drugs will say that some agencies are overstepping the line 
between giving health advice and are now actually promoting drug use.

MPs from all parties on the Labour-dominated committee were shocked by some 
of the literature produced by publicly funded agencies.

Pamphlets and leaflets seen by the MPs showed "how to roll a perfect 
spliff", stated that cannabis was not particularly harmful and advised on 
how to inject heroin properly.

In their report, the MPs conclude that the Government should review funding 
of drugs agencies and withdraw public money from those that overstep the mark.

The draft of the report, due out a week on Tuesday, says: "Members were 
very concerned about some of the graphic literature produced by agencies 
which goes much further than simply health advice and preventing drug use. 
A full review should be held of whether this is a good use of public funds."

One senior MP said: "I was truly appalled at some of the leaflets we saw. 
They are practically guides to becoming a drug addict and make little or no 
effort to persuade people not to take drugs.

"Obviously, these agencies are dealing with young people and need to 
communicate with them in their language, but there's a difference between 
sensible advice, such as telling people to drink water if they are 
determined to use Ecstasy, and actually telling people cannabis is not that 
harmful or guiding them on how to take hard drugs. I wouldn't allow my 
children to look at something like this. We shouldn't fund any organisation 
which produces them."

MPs were particularly concerned about leaflets produced by Lifeline, a 
long-established Manchester drugs advice charity that receives about UKP5 
million a year from the taxpayer.

One comic book produced by Lifeline, "The lads go mad in Amsterdam", 
features two British men being educated to take Ecstasy once a month on 
special occasions by a "cool" Dutch woman. In another, "Claire and Jose get 
off their cake", a young woman is advised by a friend to use drugs in 
moderation - taking only half an Ecstasy tablet.

A third of the charity's publications, "Everything a parent needs to know 
about cannabis but was afraid to ask", shows how to roll a joint. 
Publications by other agencies seen by the MPs included advice to 
youngsters not to tell their parents if they were experimenting with drugs.

A leaflet from Lifeline gives a step-by-step guide to buying cannabis in 
Amsterdam's "coffee shops" for the first-time drugs tourist.

While the charity insists that the pamphlets are aimed at stopping people 
killing or harming themselves with drugs, MPs believe that the advice could 
give the message that it is legitimate to take drugs in certain circumstances.

Mike Linnell, Lifeline's communications director, admitted that his 
publicity material was open to criticism but added: "Telling people not to 
take drugs as they can be dangerous doesn't work, so we aim to provide 
information on how to keep alive if they do use the drugs.

"If you overdramatise and say, 'One bit of cannabis will kill you,' people 
will know that isn't true. If you say, 'Cannabis won't kill you, but heroin 
might,' then people will listen."

He added: "We produce leaflets for a whole variety of markets. Leaflets 
about safe ways of injecting heroin are aimed at people who already use it 
and are intended to stop them making some mistake that will kill them."

Lifeline is a private charity with 200 staff and is funded through 
donations, health-service contracts and grants from local and central 
government. Its publications branch, with a turnover of UKP300,000, is 
self-financing and sells publications to other drugs agencies, many of 
which are publicly funded.

The Telegraph has also learned that the MPs have concluded that cannabis 
should not be decriminalised and that heroin should not be downgraded from 
a Class A drug. They will, however, back proposals by David Blunkett, the 
Home Secretary, to downgrade cannabis to a Class C drug - making possession 
of it for personal use a non-arrestable offence.
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