Friday, January 19, 2007

Meth is Class A - we can relax now.

So methamphetamine is, as of yesterday, a Class A drug. Well thank heavens for that, now we have nothing to worry about.

I am reliably informed that all the people who were really looking forward to trying it as a Class B drug have decided its just not worth the risk – the idea of 7 years in prison instead of a mere 5 was just too serious a worry. They are going to stick with old-school Class B amphetamines instead (but take twice as much).

And as for all the meth dealers and producers who before yesterday were lining up to cash in on the imminent meth epidemic, they too have apparently decided it’s just not worth the risk of life in prison and an ‘unlimited fine’ for nasty Class A dealing, and have decided to quit the life of crime go straight instead. Its just not like the good old days when meth was pansy-ish Class B and all they had to worry about was a piffling 14 years in prison and measely ‘unlimited fine’.

British kids saved from the meth epidemic by reclassification, photographed this-morning:

Hmmm. Maybe its time for a reality check.

Reclassifying will not prevent people producing it, selling it or using it. Meth has been Schedule 1 (equivalent of Class A) in the USA and Canada since way before their respective meth epidemics began, and over there people frequently get the obscenely long sentences the statute books threaten.

Maybe this suggests we should be even tougher? Maybe we should try the Thailand approach where selling the drug is likely to get you executed by the police. A horrific 2000 people were killed in Thailand's 2003 'drug crackdown'. Now that’s what I call tough! Nothing like those sissies in the Home Office.

Unfortunately, wholesale slaughter doesn’t seem to have worked either – the country still has the highest meth consumption in the world, in the region of 800 million tablets being consumed a year according to the Lancet .

Despite these grim tales from around the world, in Wednesday's Home Office press release an ACPO spokesperson is quoted reiterating the evidence-free myth that ‘people will be deterred by the penalties for making, dealing or using methylamphetmine’ . ACPO also state that ‘production and use of this drug in all its forms will now be substantially easier to combat as a result of this reclassification’ because ‘It will also become possible to close down, for long periods, premises used as illicit 'meth' laboratories (a power for Class A drugs only).’ You have to wonder if ACPO have bothered to look at the experience overseas or not, because if they have they can hardly be filled with optimism. Surely, after all these years of failure with heroin and crack, they must know that this sort of enforcement approach simply does not work, and can arguably make things worse by further inflating price for users and correspondingly increasing the volume of crime committed by addicts to support their habits (ref; heroin and crack).

Infact it is amazing really that the Government and police are still trumpeting this reclassification as any kind of sensible core response to the methamphetamine threat - despite the lack of evidence from anywhere that it will make the slightest difference. The Science and Technology Select Committee recently took a long hard look at the classification system and found it ‘was not fit for purpose’, hadn't achieved its stated aims (infact it had done the exact opposite), was unevaluated and was based on a series of false assumptions about its deterrent effects. But you don’t really need a select committee inquiry to figure that out. The idea that the classification system provides any useful public health information to young people, is an effective deterrent, or reduces drug use, production or supply is frankly laughable – just look at our experience over the last 36 years. (I have blogged – in bordering on tedious detail - about the classification system and deterrence, the Sci/Tech Committee report and the Government’s pitiful response to it here and there is a Transform briefing on the problems with the classification system, with links to the committee report, here).

Classification is almost entirely irrelevant to levels of use and availability;

- Ecstasy use went from zero to 2 million pills a week in the late 80s early 90s, it was Class A all the time, now its going down
- Cocaine use is rising sharply and it has always been Class A
- Crack use went from zero to ‘epidemic’ use in a couple of years and it has always been Class A
- Heroin has risen by more than 1000% (that's three zeros) over a period of 30 years and has been Class A all along
- Availablity of all major Class A drugs has increased steadily year on year

Perhaps more suprisingly, major players in drug field also offer qualified support for the move, including Drugscope which supports it ‘as a sensible precautionary move’ and Addaction who repeat the ACPO line that it ‘will allow the police to tackle crystal meth more effectively’. Both Drugscope and Addaction caveat their support with eminently sensible calls for better treatment and education services to be developed in anticipation of rising meth use, although this does suggest they can’t be overly confident that the reclassification is going to be effective at preventing much. But this support, albeit qualified, does beg the question of whether they think it is useful or indeed ethical for problem meth users (the clients these organisations are set up to support) to be criminalised and imprisoned? By supporting increased penalties you have to assume that is their position (even though I dont think it is).

This seems especially odd for Drugscope, which has gone on the record calling for ‘Criminal procedures’ to ‘no longer be initiated for the possession of small amounts of any scheduled drug’ on the basis that ‘there is no evidence that the availability of imprisonment deters simple possession or that it is effective longer term in stopping drug use’.

OK, in the context of the classification harm-rankings system as it stands, the move makes 'sense' - and lets be clear that no one is denying meth use is a serious health risk - BUT the ABC ranking system itself has no established public health benefits and is primarily used to determine the hierarchy of penalties that form the core of our drug policy. It is grotesquely unfair, malfunctioning, unscientific, and yes, it actually makes things worse - It actively increases harms (not that the Government bothers to evaluate it against meaningful indicators).

Whatever you say about other service provision, supporting the re-classification means support for increasing criminalisation, punishment and imprisonment of users - fact.


Anonymous said...

Yeah? So? Your point is? Your better way is?

Steve Rolles said...

well why chuck massive resources into futile criminal justice enforcement when its not going to work - you know its not goind to work, and in all likelyhood just make things worse?

How about a public health approach that doesnt involve criminlising problem users - putting resources into helping problem users sort ther lives out, educating people about the dangers - and potentially making certain stimulants in certain proeparations availble on prescription or licensed sales to get rid of the crime and public health problems associated with illegal markets.

have a look at the transform website

phil said...

The Transform approach was tried in Shanghai in the 1800's. The Royal Navy enforced the repeal of the Chinese laws prohibiting the trade in opium and forced the Chinese authorities to permit its consumption in a regulated fashion

The result was misery for many generations of Chinese.

Not until the late 1940's was opium agai made illegal by the victorious communists.

Steve Rolles said...

- What kind of argument is that?

are you really suggesting Inner city Britain in 2006 has something to learn from pre-communist peasant china in the 18th century.

If thats your best example of how regulated drug markets wont work the our work is done (although you are in distinguished company - its exactly what the head of the disasterous UN drug control agency said recently).

No, the Transform approach - as you call it - also known as evidence based public health policy - is tried with 100s of existing legal and prescription drugs, here and around the world.

Are you suggesting we should model ourselves on the US prohibionist triumph with Meth?

Anonymous said...

I'm a studet journalist, working on a story about crystal meths for a radio package. Would any of you be willing to talk to me about what you think about the reclassification of crystal meths. I am submitting the finished piece to BBC Radio one's newsbeat so your views could potentially be heard by millions.
Email me if you're interested on

Anonymous said...

I agree. The MDA is ridiculous & ineffective, even if you agree with it's approach, which I don't. I followed the link 'obscenely long sentences the statute books threaten.' and I feel sick...

Anonymous said...

I too clicked on the 'obscenely long sentences the statute books threaten.' link and feel equally sicken by what i read. Just wondering if you have any information on the reality of the sentences drug users and dealers actually recieve in this counry.