Thursday, October 29, 2009

HASC discusses calls for an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act

One of the members of the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) raised the issue of carrying out in Impact Assessment (IA) of the Misuse of Drugs Act during a witness session as part of the current inquiry into the cocaine trade. Undertaking such an IA has been one of Transform’s key recommendations in our written submission and oral evidence to the HASC inquiry.

Anne Cryer MP addressing the Advisory Ccouncil on the Misuse of Drugs Chair, Professor David Nutt:

'Can I ask you about the current legislation which is the MDA and associated legislation. The actualy act was approved by Parliament in '71, so that's 38 years ago. Do you think the time has come to have an Impact Assessment of that legislation and how it's applied today, is it still fit for purpose?'
Professor David Nutt:
'Well as I said in answers to other questions, it’s not perfect. I think as a construct, it is good. I think if it was made more evidence-based, if the act truly represented the harms of drugs, rather than having some other political overwriting - messages written into it - then I think it would be very powerful. So I think my council would be very comfortable with people wanting to review it.'
Anne Cryer:
'So you would support a total assessment of it?'
David Nutt:
'I would be very happy with that, yes.'
Professor Nutt, additionally, in reply to a series of questions question from David Winnick MP about whether it was time for a debate around the efficacy of prohibition, and whether drugs should be legalised, said:
'I think a very mature and wide ranging debate about the effects of regulation and legality on drug use is worth having."

You can view the whole session here (The section transcribed above starts at 1 hour and 17 minutes).

Transform have held a meeting with the Prime Minister requesting that he instigate an IA of the current legislation, but has yet to have any confirmation that such an IA will be launched . Now that the issue has been raised by the HASC, Transform are optimistic that it may be in the inquiries final recommendations due to be published in the New Year.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Transform give oral evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee cocaine inquiry

Transform gave oral evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the cocaine trade this morning - which is available to view online, in full here.*

The session, which was 45 minutes long involved Transform's research director Steve Rolles , alongside Neil McKeganey from Glasgow University, being questioned by the committee on various aspects of cocaine production, supply and use.

Transform's contributions were essentially in line with the written submission from earlier on the year available here.

Immediately following on from the Rolles/McKeganey session, was a second set of witnesses, Mitch Winehouse (Amy Winehouse's dad and drugs worker Sarah Graham. A third set of witnesses followed immediately afterwards - Evan Harris MP, John Mann MP and Lord Mancroft. All interesting but the final session particularly worth checking out.

There's plenty to discuss about the session and the inquiry more generally - but it should perhaps wait until the inquiry report is published in the new year and we know what they actually have to say.

Media coverage

predictably, most focused on the Amy Winehouse angle, but Transform's contributions did get some coverage:


*annoyingly requires either windows media viewer or installation of the Microsoft Silverlight viewer

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Time to count and compare the costs of legal and illegal drugs

A new report published by the Scottish Government this week called 'Assessing the Scale and Impact of Illicit Drug Markets in Scotland' estimated that 'the total economic and social cost of illicit drug use in Scotland is estimated at just under £3.5bn.'

The authors noted that 96% of these costs are accrued by problematic drug use. This doesn't come as much of a surprise to Transform.

What is interesting about the report is that it recognises, for the first time, that the models used to estimate the costs of illicit drugs could, and should, be extended to legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. The report lays out how such costs could be calculated and identifies the areas where alcohol and tobacco use costs are accumulated.

The authors note that,

'For alcohol, the five areas of health, criminal justice, social care, economic and wider social costs will also incur a cost as a result of alcohol use/misuse. Examining each cost area individually, many of the costs relating to recreational drug use could be estimated for alcohol use/misuse....

'A model for the social and economic costs for tobacco costs would include three of the five cost areas discussed above for alcohol use/misuse, namely health costs, economic costs and wider social costs. The biggest driving force throughout the model will be the health impact of smoking.'

Carrying out this research and then comparing it to the social and economic costs of illicit drug use would be a useful tool in disaggregating drug harms from drug policy harms - something Transform has long been calling for. It would also be an important step towards an impact assessment of prohibition versus legal regulation.

Problematic use of legal and illegal drugs - which creates the bulk of these economic and social costs - is caused overwhelmingly by poverty, deprivation and lack of wellbeing. David Liddell emphasises this point in today's Scottish Sun newspaper.
'The stark reality is there is no quick fix. The roots [of problematic drug use] lie overwhelmingly in poverty - and we are now seeing these problems running from generation to generation. It is little wonder there are strong links between being poor, drugs dependence and crime. Desperate people take desperate measures - they have very little to lose. We must think hard about how we breathe life into those ravaged communities.'

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Russian Drug Czar calls for fumigation of poppies in Afghanistan

On September 24, during his visit to the US, Victor Ivanov, Director of Russia’s Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics (Russia's Drug Czar), gave a talk at The Nixon Center on "Drug Production in Afghanistan: A Threat to International Peace and Security." Ivanov discussed the effects of drug trafficking on Russia and the world and called for U.S.-Russian cooperation in eradicating the trade. His remarks can be read in their entirety here; a short summary of the event is also available.

Following the extracts from his speech below, is a press briefing from the White House showing that the US administration gave Ivanov short shrift.

In a speech that repeatedly calls for the liquidation and elimination of the Afghan poppy crop, Ivanov extolls the virtues of aerial fumigation. A plan which, to their credit, the Americans have opposed.

The speech is as revealing for what Ivanov doesn't say, as for what he does. Pointedly blaming the Afghans and Americans for the heroin being used in Russia, Ivanov refuses to acknowledge that the demand for heroin in Russia could have anything to do with Russia's domestic and foreign policy, either now, with regard to creating social conditions that drive their citizens into problematic drug use, or their previous interventions in Afghanistan itself.

History apparently began when the US went into Afghanistan in 2001 in order to achieve "Enduring Freedom"!

Well worth a read of the entire speech, Ivanov repeatedly refers to opium/heroin as a security threat. Failing to understand or publicly acknowledge that it is the prohibition that creates the threat, not the drug.

I have pulled out some quotes I think are worthy of specific comment:

Ivanov fails to see any irony in this statement:

"Along with that, being here, at the Nixon Center, is good reason to recall that the “War on Drugs” was declared exactly 40 years ago by President Richard Nixon. And that decision was certainly no coincidence."

Clearly Russia has had only peaceful and benign intent toward its neighbour over the millenia:

"Unfortunately, we have to acknowledge that the instability and military confrontation of the last eight years created in the long-suffering Afghanistan perfect conditions for the rise of a global Narco-State which alone is producing more opiates than the whole world did ten years ago."

Afghanistan takes the full blame for Russia's dreadful habit:

"For Russia the task of liquidation of Afghan drug production is an unrivaled priority as it is Russia that has today become the main victim of this phenomenon.
More than 90 per cent of drug-addicts in our country are consumers of Afghan opiates. Up to 30 thousand people die of heroin annually."

The drug, not the regime of prohibition gets the blame here:

"It must be admitted that heroin ruins young statehoods and kills democracy.
This situation can be rightfully considered a unique global historical phenomenon and qualified according to the UN Charter as a threat to international peace and security."

Some sense here:

"However, what lies behind the global Afghan drug production?
Its main cause is the ongoing geopolitical tension in Afghanistan, induced by the growing resentment of the population, especially Pashto peoples, against foreign military troops which inevitably creates numerous centers of resistance and micro-conflicts."

And the solution to this geopolitical problem?:

"But the clue to solving the problem of Afghanistan lies in the hands of the United States."

"Refusal to eliminate drug crops, declared by Mr. Richard Holbrooke in Trieste as the basis of the new strategy to fight Afghan drugs, is misguiding [misguided ed].
In this connection, the Afghan drug issue should be made one of the main topics and tracks of Russian-American relations."

Be great if it was.

But first some more history:

"Next year, the whole world will commemorate the 65th anniversary of the great Victory over Nazi Germany. The creation of a Russian-American Anti-Drug Coalition by that time would have not only pragmatic, but also a deep symbolical meaning.
After all, it was by virtue of the prompt creation of an anti-Hitler coalition in 1941, immediately after Nazi Germany’s aggression against the USSR, that the defeat of Nazism and militarism became possible in 1945."

Because drugs are like Nazis...but more evil. What would be really interesting would be a Russian-American Drug Coalition, set up by next year that took a global lead toward a peaceful resolution of the war on drugs; not anti-drug, but anti-war...

And again, wrong analysis leads Ivanov to assess opium/heroin as the threat to international peace and security, rather than the war on drugs:

"Our analysis shows that in order to achieve this objective it is necessary to raise the issue of Afghan drug-production to the level of a threat to international peace and security. This would make it possible to turn the campaign against Afghan drug-production into priority for the international community and put the instruments provided by the international law to full use."

However, despite Russian pressure, US resolve to maintain its opposition remains strong. Here is an excerpt from the White House press briefing for 23 September:

Ian Kelly
Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 23, 2009

QUESTION: Russia, and particularly its drug czar, is urging the U.S. to go back to poppy eradication by air. What's your response to that?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. We did take note of that. Of course, Russia is one of the major destination countries for Afghan heroin, and of course, because of that, has been long concerned about international counternarcotic efforts in Afghanistan. They've been active in the Paris pact, a consortium of nations committed to assist Afghanistan combat illicit drug production and trafficking.

As you note, Viktor Ivanov, who is the director of their anti-drug agency, is in Washington, and tomorrow will have meetings with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, with Director Kerlikowske, and here at State with David Johnson, who's our Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

In general, I think just to sort of lay out what our general policy has been, we believe that large-scale eradication efforts have not worked to reduce the funding to the Taliban. And we believe that it's also worked as a kind of a recruiting tool by driving farmers who have lost their livelihood into the hands of the insurgency. So we're supporting the Afghan Government's efforts to provide farmers with alternative means of supporting themselves.

And because of this new policy, we're reducing support for eradication. We do provide some targeted support for Afghan-led efforts where we think they will work on a case-by-case basis. But our assistance will focus on increased efforts for alternative crop development, and this is part of our overall strategy in Afghanistan of supporting the people and Government of Afghanistan to stand on their own.