Following on from my last post, inspired by Jim Millar's very sensible post on a related topic and being in the mood for a rant I thought I'd expand on my views on heroin addiction.
To declare an interest up front I have very little patience for drug addicts, call me harsh but when you've had friends steal from you, manipulate you into 'lending' them money you can ill afford, witnessed the devastation it causes in both families and the wider community and observed the effects it has on the user -it's hard to be patient.
Still we, I am happy to say live in a society where systems are in place to help people in need, the problem for me is that I'm not always convinced that the help we give people is really helping them at all. Beware -anecdotal evidence to follow.
Firstly an acquaintance of mine and red hot socialist to boot elected to work with drug addicts in an earlier fit of compassion. She soon had her halo knocked off after a few night shifts answering phone calls from highly indignant heroin addicts demanding a taxi to take them to the chemist for methadone, having missed their earlier appointment. Incredibly taxis are routinely arranged for this. Given that heroin withdrawal is unpleasant but not life threatening or disabling -why is a taxi at public expense required? Of course anyone who'd thought it through for more than five minutes would realise that the reason they'd missed their earlier appointment was that they had a supply of heroin at that time and didn't require methadone. Who other than taxi drivers is this intended to help? The methadone programme is there for people who are serious about kicking the habit not as an emergency back up for smack addicts. That being the case would it not be kinder to addicts to stop offering them incentives to give free reign to their worst instincts and at least impose the discipline of timekeeping on them. A valuable skill to develop for their return to the world of work.
When was the last time you head of anyone giving up an addiction by being pandered to at every opportunity? The 24 hour supply of methadone should be stopped and anyone missing their allotted time should go without. After all alcohol withdrawal is potentially life threatening, where are the free taxis to state subsidised 24 hour pubs for alcoholics? There is no risk to the health of the withdrawing heroin addict and to treat them as if there is is both wicked and a waste of valuable resources.
Moving on to the benefits system. In my experience heroin addicts can usually claim Incapacity Credits without undue difficulty but struggle to attain an award of Disability Living Allowance.
I have reluctantly defended many an addict at DLA tribunals with, I'm sad to say some success.
The whole purpose of DLA is to allow disabled people to pay for help with care and mobility, for example someone with arthritis might not be physically able to use public transport but could pay for taxi's or they may require the attention of a home help etc . That to me is a proper use of the system but does anyone really believe that is how the average addict uses their money? I think we do drug addicts a great disservice by giving them cash. I realise voucher schemes for asylum seekers were scrapped for being too expensive but addiction is one instance where vouchers would be worth the extra cost in that it would ensure no-one starves but would not assist the addict to continue in their lifestyle.
The country has changed but the benefits system has not kept up, so addicts are shoved off Jobseekers' onto sickness benefits. I would like to see these replaced with with 'Addict Vouchers' for registered drug addicts which could be spent on food and essential items only. A small cash allowance to cover water and fuel etc could be paid and if they spent that on drugs tough tits because I'd also bar them from the social fund which they abuse mercilessly.
Of course it may be argued that the downside of this is that it might discourage folk from seeking help. I disagree, it would restrict the amount of people seeking help to those making a genuine effort to clean up and see off those folk who use addiction programmes as a means of obtaining a back up opiate supply.
Giving drug addicts cash benefits is a drop in the ocean in terms of fighting crime. No affordable amount of benefit would be sufficient to cover the costs of a full blown addict. They choose to steal because they believe their pleasure takes precedence over everyone else's right to own property and for that they should be caught and jailed or better still the police presence should be increased to a point where much crime is prevented. Either way the presence of drugs in prison should be eliminated by visits taking place through glass to prevent any physical contact. If through regular random testing drugs were found to be in the prison then the long finger of suspicion would fall on the staff who should be given full body searches on arrival to work until the problem is eliminated. No-one should come out of prison a drug addict if we're serious about rehabilitating people.
As for needle exchange schemes, I'm half-minded to scrap them. Everyone knows that HIV and Hepatitis are spread through the use of needles. Injecting Heroin is deeply risky. One only has to gaze at the amount of young amputees on Glasgow's schemes to know that. I realise that in the current anti-smoking climate suggesting that addicts either smoke or quit is bound to be unpopular but they have consistently demonstrated that they are unable to clear up after themselves. They do not care about the welfare of the wider community when they discard needles on buses, in tenements and swing parks. It is certain that community welfare is not what they have in mind when the threaten minimum wage shop security guards with blood filled needles and tell them they have AIDS. The risks of Heroin and indeed injecting Heroin are well publicised and should remain so. Addicts choose to be addicts, so there is no reason for the rest of us to suffer accordingly. Nor is there any reason to supply needles when they know the risks. If there is sufficient demand dealers will supply them.
Finally I had the utterly excruciating experience of taking an employee of an African NGO out on my rounds a while back. At first he thought he'd landed in heaven then rapidly came to the conclusion that this country would be fine if it swapped populations with his. He works with people that need to walk 15 miles for safe drinking water, who have been reliant on harvests that often fail, who have whip rounds to ensure that at least one of their children has a basic education, who routinely die of diarrhea, who really are forced to steal to eat. He could not understand why people chain themselves to even relative poverty by addiction, he could not understand why people commit crime when they have enough money to live. The worst outing of all he had was to Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. Imagine how you would feel if you came from a country where starvation was common and then saw a higher standard of living in a Scottish jail.
Talk about the decadent west! I have never had such difficulty looking a human being in the eye in my life. Nor have I ever witnessed such a struggle to contain one's emotions in one human being. All he wanted to do was weep. If I were him I'd have slapped someone.