Pubdate: Tue, 21 May 2002
Source: Independent (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Cahal Milmo
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


Froukje, a heroin addict in Amsterdam for 19 years, took a long look at the 
pictures of Rachel Whitear's bloated and blackened body, bent double by the 
craving for smack that sent her to a grim and premature death.

Like millions of others who have seen the pictures of 21-year-old Rachel 
since they were released by her parents, Pauline and Mick Holcroft, the 
39-year-old Dutch woman agreed they were shocking.

But as the Holcrofts stood with Froukje at a drop-in centre in Amsterdam 
earlier this month, it dawned that her shock was not just at the images but 
the circumstances that led to the Briton's lonely death.

For months before Rachel's body was found in the Devon flat where she died, 
clutching the syringe she had used to inject her last UKP10 heroin hit, her 
parents had tried to get her on a treatment programme.

They were told there was a waiting list of six to nine months. Rachel, a 
bright and promising former psychology undergraduate before trying heroin, 
was dead before she reached the top of it.

Froukje told the Holcrofts that she managed both her addiction and a job 
with the help of therapy available at 48 hours' notice - the standard 
waiting time in the Netherlands.

She said: "We're much better off. We have [heroin substitute] methadone 
programmes. You don't have to wait.

"I think in the UK you have to wait nine months before you can get any 
help. That's unthinkable for us to have to wait that long. Because when 
people want to kick the habit, they want it now."

It is a way of thinking that Pauline, 52, the manager of a residential care 
estate, and Mick, 54, a leisure centre worker, have come not only to 
recognise but to champion.

Rather than two more grieving casualties of Britain's burgeoning drug 
problem, the couple have been transformed into the unlikely vanguard of a 
radical overhaul of drug education and prevention.

The Government's announcement today that it will use Rachel's Story - a 
hard-hitting drug education video made with the Holcrofts' help and 
featuring the photographs of her body - to warn children of the dangers of 
addiction is just the latest stage in the couple's "voyage of discovery" 
into addiction and its social fall-out.

Speaking after their visit to the Netherlands to see its treatment of 
cannabis and heroin, Pauline said: "We have got to accept the reality that 
drugs are rife in Britain and we aren't going to get rid of them.

"We haven't done much in this country that is radical for a very long time 
and they are not going to go away. It is time for radical thinking. Holland 
has confronted its problem. So must we."

The Holcrofts found themselves thrust into the public spotlight three 
months ago after Rachel lost her battle against what she called her "rage" 
in grotesque circumstances in Exmouth on 10 May 2000.

A day after breaking up with the boyfriend who police believed got her 
hooked on heroin at the age of 19 and telling her parents that she was 
coming home, she went to buy one last dose of heroin.

After beginning to wean herself off the drug, her tolerance was unusually 
low. Fate would have it that the heroin in the paper wrap she bought was 
unusually pure. Her prone body was found three days later.

Like Paul and Jan Betts, who published a photograph of their daughter Leah 
dying from an ecstasy pill in 1995, the decision of the Holcrofts to show 
their daughter's corpse caused widespread shock.

The Holcrofts, who brought up Rachel in the family home in Withington, 
Herefordshire, wanted that initial "fright factor". Now they want their 
daughter's death to be part of a more enlightened battle against drugs.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee is expected to recommend 
this week a network of "safe injecting areas" where Britain's 240,000 
addicts can inject a form of heroin prescribed on the NHS.

It will also suggest that rather than jailing them, addicts should be 
offered treatment to change their lifestyles to help counter a drug culture 
which means that Britain accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the 7,000 
annual drugs deaths in the entire EU. The shift from punitive to 
preventative drug policies will be the most radical in 30 years.

The suggestions are ones that the Holcrofts, previously opposed to any form 
of legalisation, wholeheartedly agree with after their visit to the 
Amsterdam drop-in centre and one of the city's famous cannabis cafes.

Pauline said: "I didn't expect to be saying this. Initially, when we knew 
what was going on with Rachel, I would have been anti any drugs - I would 
have been the person who said 'don't legalise anything'.

"I have changed my views. I think there is this terrible reality that in 
this country there are so many young cannabis users and because it is 
illegal here, they go on to try harder drugs through the dealers."

Research shows that whereas 40 per cent of teenagers use cannabis in 
Britain, where it is an illegal Class B drug, the figure in the 
Netherlands, where it is sold openly, is 20 per cent.

The fact that one in every 50 youngsters in Britain goes on to try heroin, 
compared with one in a thousand Dutch youngsters, proves that legalisation 
of cannabis would cut the link to hard drug dealers, the Holcrofts believe.

Rachel, who wrote of her addiction "it's destroying me - my house, my job, 
my relationship with my family", initially experimented with cannabis and 
ecstasy, according to her parents.

Her stepfather told ITV's Central News, which followed the couple on their 
visit to Amsterdam: "In Britain, the dealers have cannabis in one pocket 
and heroin in the other.

"There are far, far fewer heroin addicts in Holland, so Rachel would have 
been less likely to fall into those circles. And if she had had problems, 
she would have got help more or less immediately, which isn't available in 

The couple modestly underline that they are not experts on drugs policy. 
Instead, they base their calls for a Dutch-style overhaul of policy on 
their daughter.

Pauline, who understandably bristles at the term "shooting gallery" for an 
injecting clinic, said: "My experience is based on what happened to Rachel.

"Either we don't set up clinics and addicts will still buy heroin on the 
streets, take it in unsafe conditions and die - as my daughter did. Under 
supervision, at least those risks are removed. It would save lives."

The couple oppose criticism from traditionalists that earlier education, 
wider treatment, legalisation of cannabis and NHS prescription of heroin 
represent defeat in attempts to stop the inexorable rise in addiction and 
related crime.

Instead, like Britain's biggest addiction charity, DrugScope, and, 
increasingly, senior government ministers, they believe it is opening a 
long-neglected second front in the much-ridiculed war on drugs.

The fact that their daughter's corpse, clad in a summer dress, will now be 
shown to wide-eyed nine-year-olds is a necessary ratcheting up of the 
campaign to stop others suffering the same fate, according to Mick.

He said: "I have grandchildren. This is to provide children with the facts 
why, when someone says one day, 'Hey, do you want to try this?', they know 
what they're talking about when they reject it.

"It's about, if they do try it, them having treatment rapidly available to 
stop them falling into crime. It's about providing the structure that 
wasn't there for Rachel, her family and so many others."

Campaigning Parents The Battle Against Drugs

Leah Betts:

Paul and Jan Betts, the parents of sixth-former Leah, who died after taking 
an ecstasy tablet on her 18th birthday in 1995, became national figures 
when they published a photograph of their daughter as she lay dying in 
hospital. They have maintained a hard line against legalisation and reject 
the Dutch model for dealing with drugs.

Amy Pickard:

The heavily pregnant 17-year-old fell into a heroin-induced coma after 
taking an overdose in a public lavatory in Hastings last summer. Her baby 
died five days after being delivered. Amy's mother, Thelma, a nurse, issued 
a photograph of her comatose daughter and is campaigning for the ban on all 
drugs to be upheld.

Scott Gillespie:

Fulton Gillespie, a retired journalist, told the Home Affairs Select 
Committee to legalise drugs earlier this year after his 33-year-old son 
injected himself with contaminated heroin. The product of a loving, 
affluent family, he had dabbled with drugs at school and fallen into heroin 
addiction. His father said: "Control of this power station has to be taken 
away from the criminals."

Lorna Spinks

The family of the 19-year-old student launched a nationwide poster campaign 
when she died after taking a "super-strong" ecstasy pill in May last year. 
The billboards, funded by donations from poster site firms, showed a 
selection of ecstasy pills with the legend: "Which one's the killer?"
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