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Scottish Liberal Democrats Back Prescription Heroin

Scottish Liberal Democrats at their party conference in Perth voted Saturday to make campaigning for heroin maintenance treatment part of their party platform. Heroin users should not be fined or imprisoned, but should be given the drug through the National Health Service, party members agreed.

Tavish Scott's Lib Dems want "heroin on the NHS." (Image via Wikimedia)
The Liberal Democrats are an opposition party in Scotland, holding 16 of 129 Scottish Parliament seats, 11 of 59 Scottish seats in the British Parliament, and one of six Scottish seats in the European Parliament. They are fourth of five major political parties, behind the National Party, Labor, and the Conservatives, but ahead of the Scottish Greens. They are led by Tavish Scott.

The Lib Dems argued that both society and heroin users would benefit from prescribing the drug. Overdose and tainted drug deaths would decline, and addicts would not have to turn to crime or prostitution to feed their habits, they said.

"For drug offenders, fines and jail time simply don't work. In fact a fine will make it much more likely for a drug user to turn to a life of crime to fuel their habit," said Callum Leslie, a candidate for Mid Fife and Glenrothes. "Instead, the Liberal Democrats want to see a much greater use of Drug Treatment and Testing Orders (DTTOs) and Community Service Orders (CSOs). The evidence shows that these methods work. Offenders are forced to pay back the community they harmed and have a chance to get drug free for good. Controlled diamorphine [heroin] treatment is a method that works where other methods have failed. It stops offenders getting street heroin, which can be fatal and turns offenders to further crime to fund their habit."

"There is a great cost to society, and the public purse, if offenders are just abandoned to a cycle of crime and prison," said Alex Cole-Hamilton, Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Central. "DTTOs and CSOs are measures that would save public money by keeping drug abusers out of jail. Drug offenders should not be treated the same as murderers. We should work to treat the problem of drug abuse, not lock addicts away and condemn them to a life of crime."

United Kingdom
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Pedantry

Can I be a terrible pedant? There is no British Parliament; what there is is a parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is the island made up of England, Wales and Scotland; Ireland is the island made up of Northern Ireland (which has MPs in the UK parliament in London) and the Republic of Ireland (which has its own Parliament in Dublin). Thus Great Britain is a geographical entity, but it is not in and of itself a political entity, it is part of the UK, which is a political entity, if not a very sensible-looking geographical one.

Apologies for extreme off-topicness, but it's good to be accurate about these things:-)

relevant text of motion and supporting speech

I was responsible for authoring the text of the accepted amendment that included the heroin policy. My supporting speech can be found here:

http://ewansliberalmusings.blogspot.com/2011/03/overshadowing-nick-cleggs-keynote.html

The relevant text in the motion that was passed was: "for specialised diamorphine maintenance clinics to be made available as an extra option facilitating intervention in the lives of the most vulnerable and most disruptive heroin users."

When did they stop?

When did the NHS stop supplying diamorphine or other maintenance drugs to addicts?  I was never clear on that or how it happened; it seemed like the policy quietly disappeared.  Last I heard they changed it to require a special license, then some time passed and everyone acted as if it was well known the British System had ended.

The "British System"

The NHS's "British System" (as it was called) was severely curtailed in 1967 when the Department of Health removed prescribing heroin to addicts from GPs and gave it to psychiatrists. GPs already licensed could continue and an exceptional few new ones were added, but numbers gradually shrank in the wake of disgraceful and vindictive prosecutions by the GMC. The psychiatrists knew their patients less well than GPs and so, were more suspicious of them, but a few soldiered on until Mrs Thatcher was pressured by the Americans in 1991 because they were outraged by a documentary on the British System. Mrs Thatcher cleared out the Home Office, including the humane Chief Inspector, H B Spear, and brought in English clones of born-again Christian fundamentalism, with the sad consequences we see now.  

Good on the Liberals for their brave and intelligent initiative. It is the only policy that now distinguishes them (in the public mind) from the Tories and one of the few things that may mitigate the trouncing they can expect at the polls from having allied themselves with the bankers' friends.

opiate replacement

they still prescribe either methadone or subutex to opiate addicts in scotland as maintainance or a reduction program (as the NHS does in other parts of the UK) however, these replacement drugs although longer lasting than heroin are much less euphoric and as such do not satisfy addicts enough to stop them from using street drugs as well. they are also harder to detox from than heroin (diamorphine) because of their longer half-life.

Prescription drugs

Good intention to explain the problems that happen to patients on prescription drugs. I believe that prescription medications - call hydrocodone, percocet, lortab, oxycontin or vicodin - are well identified contraindications. There are places online where listed side effects and reactions. Mentions Wikipedia and Findrxonline that these medicines should not be taken without a prescription or buy on sites without guarantee.

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