Pubdate: Tues, 18 May 1999
Source: Independent, The (UK)
Copyright: 1999 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Contact:  1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL
Section: Letters to the Editor
Author: (1) Hugh Robertson; (2) Jonathan A Jones


Sir: Having read your series on heroin in the UK last week, I wonder why we
stopped the practice of prescribing heroin to registered addicts - a
practice now being successfully trialled in Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The Netherlands have a minor problem with heroin compared with most Western
European countries. One of the main reasons is the setting up of "coffee
shops" over 20 years ago, along with a sensible education policy. The coffee
shops decriminalised cannabis and separated the market for cannabis from
that for hard drugs.

Another mainstay of their policy is to treat addiction as a medical and
social problem and not as a criminal problem, which has led to the trials
with prescribing heroin.

As well as a relatively small, stable number of heroin addicts they also
have the lowest rate of teenage use of cannabis in the western world.

Why are this country's political parties so blinkered?

Hugh Robertson, Perth -------------

Sir: Your leading article of 15 May implies that drug addiction leads to
crime. If that were indeed the case we would all live in fear of being
mugged by the millions of cigarette addicts who walk our streets. If heroin
were available as cheaply and easily as tobacco then heroin-related crime
would disappear overnight.

There is ample evidence from experiments in Switzerland that addicts
maintained on legal heroin can live healthy and productive lives. With
careful licensing of sales it should even be possible to keep heroin largely
out of the hands of children, something which the current prohibition-based
approach has conspicuously failed to achieve.

The war against drugs has not only failed spectacularly (the use of heroin
is going up and its price is falling steadily) but has itself created a host
of new problems. There can be no progress until we abandon this foolish war.

Jonathan A Jones, Oxford

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