Pubdate: Sun, 21 Jun 2015
Source: Wales on Sunday (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Trinity Mirror Plc
Author: James McCarthy


Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, by 
Johann Hari, is published by Bloomsbury, priced UKP18.99.

A DOCTOR hounded from Britain by the establishment has revealed how 
he slashed heroin addiction and crime by doling out the drug to 
addicts. Psychiatrist John Marks now works in Vienna. But in 1982 the 
South Wales Valleys-raised medic was working in Widnes, in the Wirral.

In a new book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War 
on Drugs, he reveals how he became the accidental pioneer of an 
initiative to give free heroin to addicts  and that it worked.

"There were maybe a few dozen lads, the occasional girl, who came and 
got their tot of junk  railwaymen, bargemen, all walks of life 
really," Dr Marks said, describing the patients he was given when he 
moved to Widnes.

He told them to stop using. They said they needed it.

"I found this a bit of a headache," Dr Marks said. "I had bigger fish to fry."

He moved to axe the programme but then there was a directive from 
Margaret Thatcher's government. Every part of Britain had to show it 
had an anti-drugs strategy. Clinics had to conduct cost-benefit 
studies to show what worked.

Dr Marks commissioned academic Russell Newcombe to look into it. He 
assumed Dr Newcombe would find his patients were like cliche junkies 
- - unemployed and unemployable, criminal, with high levels of HIV and death.

But he didn't. On receiving the report, Marks looked at his patients. 
There was Sydney.

"He was an old Liverpool docker, happily married, lovely couple of 
kids," Dr Marks said. "He'd been chugging along on his heroin for a 
couple of decades."

He had a decent, healthy life. So did all the users prescribed heroin.

"How could this be?" Dr Marks asked himself.

"Doesn't heroin inherently damage the body? Doesn't it naturally 
cause abscesses, diseases and death?"

Allan Parry worked for the local health authority. Patients without 
prescriptions were injecting smack with "brick dust in it, coffee, 
crushed bleach crystals, anything".

Dr Marks could see the difference between street addicts arriving at 
the clinic and patients on legal prescriptions.

The former had abscesses like hardboiled eggs rotting under their 
skin. They had open wounds on their hands and legs.

"It looked like a pizza of infection," Mr Parry said.

"It's mushy, and the cheese you get on it is pus. And it just gets 
bigger and bigger." But the prescription addicts could have passed 
for clinic staff.

Dr Marks began to believe many "of the harms of drugs are to do with 
the laws around them, not the drugs themselves".

In the clinic, they started calling the infections, abscesses and 
amputations "drug war wounds".

"If prescription is so effective, why don't we do it more?" Dr Marks 
wondered. He expanded his heroin prescription programme from

a dozen to more than 400. The police noticed the effect.

Inspector Michael Lofts studied 142 heroin and cocaine addicts in the 
area. He found a 93% drop in theft and burglary.

"You could see them transform in front of your own eyes," Lofts told 
a newspaper.

"They came in outrageous condition, stealing daily to pay for illegal 
drugs, and became, most of them, very amiable, reasonable law-abiding people."

He said elsewhere: "Since the clinics opened, the street heroin 
dealer has slowly but surely abandoned the streets of Warrington and Widnes."

A young mother called Julia came into Dr Marks' surgery. She had been 
working as a prostitute to support her habit. He wrote her a 
prescription. She quit sex work that day.

Something else happened. The number of heroin addicts in the area fell.

Dr Newcombe had an explanation. Street addicts were buying drugs and 
taking what they needed.

They cut the rest to sell. They were persuading others to become addicts.

Prescription addicts did not have to do this because they got their 
fix for free.

Dr Marks' experiment began to attract media attention and pressure 
from the US government. The British government panicked. It shut it down.

When Dr Marks was prescribing, from 1982 to 1995, he never had a 
drug-related death. After closure, of 450 patients he prescribed to, 
20 were dead in six months. Forty-one were dead in two years. More 
lost limbs and caught potentially lethal diseases.

Sydney the docker and Julia the prostitute died.

Dr Marks was blacklisted. He ended up in Gisborne, New Zealand.
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