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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 5th March 2012

On BBC1’s ‘Breakfast’ programme this morning there was an item about a new campaign founded by parents who have lost children to drugs and including Mitch Winehouse, Amy’s father, and Vicky Unwin, whose daughter Louise died after using ketamine, calling for drugs education to be made compulsory in schools. Most of the piece can be seen on the BBC website.

Vicky Unwin mentioned her involvement with the Angelus Foundation and that reminded me of the second evidence session of the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into drugs policy that I watched a few days ago.

The second session, held on 21st February, didn’t attract the same media attention as the first because there was no high profile celebrity to match Richard Branson, whose appearance was widely reported.

You can catch up with the second session either by reading the transcript or watching the full 110 minute video. For me, there wasn’t anything of real interest until the final witness; the witnesses for the Angelus Foundation were making the case for more money for education and those from the Ley Community and Rehab Grads were arguing that money spent on rehab is money well spent. As Mandy Rice Davies didn’t say "Well [they] would say that, wouldn't [they]?"

Professor John Strang, Director of the National Addictions Centre, did have more interesting things to say about what treatment should be about but it was the first question put to him by the Chair, Keith Vaz MP, that troubles me. When I wrote about the reaction to Richard Branson’s appearance at the first session (still available to watch here) I said that;

‘The HASC obviously feels it has to get maximum publicity for its inquiry and realised that having a very well-known figure as its first witness was a way to achieve that.’

That notion that the political game was being played was reinforced when Vaz asked Prof Strang;

‘The policy area of drugs is going to move to the Department of Health. Do you think this is a positive development?’

That made me wonder if this is what the inquiry is all about.

Thirty years ago, I attended a management training course during which an accountant produced a variety of arguments for keeping low technology manufacturing in the UK rather than moving it to lower labour cost areas. At the time, his points seemed to me to be rather contrived as though he had started by saying that manufacturing should stay in the UK and then looked for arguments to try and support that. Later in the course I discovered that he was the production accountant for a business manufacturing low technology products where the board was considering re-locating the factory overseas and making him and his colleagues redundant. Finding himself cast in the role of turkey he was not about to vote for Christmas.

So, my worry is that there is a purpose to holding this inquiry and that purpose is to decide that transferring responsibility for drugs from the Home Office to the Department of Health is a mistake.

To make that case, Mr Vaz and his committee will have to find ways to disregard the evidence they will be given about the need to treat problem drug use as a health issue. To make that as difficult as possible it is essential that plenty of truly objective evidence is given to the committee. There is no indication on the HASC’s webpage of the date of the next hearing nor who is being called so there is no way to judge whether any such evidence is about to be presented.