(Originally published on The Student Situation)
Back in the 1950s, heroin was a drug used by a few dozen people, primarily doctors, and usually those of a middle class status. Fast-forward 30 years, and the UK was filled with thousands of teenagers and twenty something year olds injecting the drug more frequently. The stigma of needle use drastically fell, and with economic issues in society, the number of users swiftly grew.
Fast forward again to today. You’re a heroin addict. You want to get better. The number of charities, doctors, not to mention the NHS are all available to give you support – but only from one approach. The trick is giving up now, they mostly say. Cold Turkey is a great method of getting healthy, apparently. Methadone is easily accessible – but only with the right doctor’s help, the right labels on your prescription, and the right coping mechanisms.
For a lot of users, the lack of support in the UK means for a high percentage of people (around 90%) relapse is inevitable. Our war on drugs preaches completely the wrong story, and focuses far too much on punishing those with an addiction, rather than encouraging help and support. It’s a common fact that many drug users, those who’ve been taking it for years as well as those with a relatively new problem, are scared of asking for help because of the legal repercussions. Possession of heroin – a class A drug – can lead to seven years in prison, or a life sentence for supplying. Going to the doctor to ask for help means details will be kept on a medical record forever. These are obvious fears that no one wants, especially someone trying to kick the habit and restart a normal lifestyle. It is unsurprising that many users find it easier to ignore the idea of recovery and continue as per.
If our direction towards drugs was to change, it is highly likely that the number of deaths from drugs would reduce dramatically. There’s proof of this in other countries, where some drugs are legalized, or recovery methods are dealt with in much better ways.
Take Denmark, for example. Their primary method of reducing drug users is to accept them, and support them when the individual is ready. Centres like ones in Copenhagen, Odense and Aarhus, allow drug users to inject safely, over the watchful eye of a trained medical professional. This means if overdoses happen, the user can be helped immediately and in the best possible way. In the four years the centres have been open, there have been no heroin related deaths. 301 people have overdosed, but thanks to the open minded and resourceful approach of the country, every single person has survived.
I could write an essay on the drug problem of the UK. The way we need to stop criminalizing those with an addiction, the way more help and support should be offered, the way people like David Nutt, who have genuinely useful ideas about how to reduce the number of addicts in this country are kicked out. The trouble is, until the number of right wing, closed minded citizens in the UK has been reduced, the amount of support given to those with ‘bad’ addictions will not change. Funny how some things equally addictive, like smoking, are not criticised to the same extent.
Denmark has 4,600 registered users at their injection clinics, and the Health Ministry has pointed out that thanks to their accessibility, they have reached a bigger number of addicts that they wouldn’t have known of otherwise. 354 people have asked for help in recovery there, without the stigma seen here in the UK. Heroin related deaths here in England have quadrupled since 2002, and the official figures for deaths last year from the drug reached 952. This number has grown dramatically since 2012, where the figure was 579. What does this tell us? We need to change the way we respond to addicts. We need to stop imprisoning people who need help, and instead give them coping mechanisms and support. Drug use is even more frequent inside prison, and the Government need to tackle this problem before the number increases more so.