Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Home Affairs Committee Cocaine Inquiry: Transform's written submission

You can now read Transform's written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee's new Cocaine Trade Inquiry which we blogged about in May.

Last week, the Chair of the Committee, Keith Vaz MP, invited Transform to give oral evidence to the inquiry during a debate on drugs legalisation with our Head of Research, Steve Rolles, on Radio One Extra. You can listen to the debate for the next few days here.

Our evidence shows how many of the issues and problems the Committee is grappling with in their inquiry stem from the criminalisation of drugs, rather than drug use per se. We also explain that there is a collective denial within Government and beyond that protects the policy of prohibition from scrutiny, the starting point of which is an ongoing refusal to separate drug harms from harms caused by drug policy, and prohibition in particular.

see also:


thepoisongarden said...

Well done. The usual high standard work.

Re para 20 '...negative public health consequences from increasing levels of impurities/cutting agents'

Have you seen the Dutch work on testing real samples of cocaine sold on the street and collecting users' anecdotal evidence of the problems they experienced?

This study found an increase in adulteration from 6.4% in 1999 to 57% (of samples submitted) in 2007.

The abstract is here;

The authors accept that the self-reporting of adverse effects used in this study may miss use of other substances and other possible factors in causing the harms reported and note that it is possible that people brought 'suspect' samples more often than 'normal' samples so the amount of adulterated samples found may over-estimate the true position.

Though the authors don't say it, it is clear to me that the problem of adulterants in cocaine can most easily be solved by regulating its quality.

What is quite clear is that you can not put cocaine out of reach pricewise because the suppliers simply increase the dilution to keep the 'per dose' price acceptable.

Derek Williams said...

Well, of course low levels of purity, highly variable strengths and a generally uncertain supply side is not only the aim of prohibition, but is actually used as a measure of success.

So it should never be forgotten that high levels of purity are the result of government policy, it's not simply the result of money hungry criminals.

But also prohibition makes any study of the situation impossible. Note that's "impossible", not "difficult". The reason for that is simply that any scientifically valid study of a population depends totally on the ability to collect statistically valid data. If you can't take representative samples you can't gather the data and the old maxim applies: Garbage in, garbage out.

A good example of this is the recent ACMD study of cannabis strength. They relied for data collection on police seizures. Some forces sent everything in, others very few samples. It could well be that they had hundreds of samples from the same batch and only a few from others, if any at all.

Any genuine scientific study will have a section which examines the limitations to the study, which will usually include a short discussion about data collection errors. This section is noticeable by its absence in the ACMD cannabis study, and just about all other drug studies.

So in truth we don't know what's happening and have no way to find out, other than looking for the victims.

Prohibition is unique amongst policies in that it actually sets out to create greater dangers and to prevent understanding.

Anonymous said...

Considering the importance of this subject, would it be possible to persuade Keith Vaz (Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee) to have the ‘The Cocaine Trade’ video recording transmitted on the
Parliamentary freeview channel as a featured item? Whilst it is possible to see committee recording via the Parliamentary site, (as on the link below), the freeview channel has more chance of bringing it to a wider audience.
Home Affairs Committee.The Cocaine Trade
Professor John Strang, Director, National Addiction Centre

Also, I note that Keith Vaz parrots Jacqui Smith’s meme of : “the public wont accept legalisation”.
In these cases it is important to get across in a way that they understand, that it was due to the Home Offices encouragement of the press and other media (starting in the mid 1960’s) to sway public opinion in to adopting the view that it has to day. Suggest perhaps, that they need to start saying “our predecessors gave you the wrong impression because they did not have the evidence that we have to day”. Actually it was more like the Americans were twisting our arm into adopting their drug policy by using the defence of Europe from the Soviet Union as an unspoken negotiation tactic, what with the Cuba Crisis and all, still being fresh in everybody's mind.

If anyone would like to add the committees page to their favourite folder for dates of the future meetings it is: