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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
MPs spark drugs debate
Addict injecting
The MPs backed trials of heroin on prescription
Plans for a major shake-up in the laws on substance misuse have prompted fresh debate among drugs experts in Scotland.

A committee of MPs has proposed introducing a prescription programme for heroin addicts and the downgrading of ecstasy and cannabis.

Professor Neil McKeganey, of the University of Glasgow's Centre for Drug Misuse, expressed doubts over the heroin prescription proposal.

Ectasy tablets
Downgrading heroin is being ruled out
The MPs on the Home Affairs Committee want trials of the carefully supervised prescription of heroin, as in the Netherlands and Switzerland.

That idea is part of the committee's drive to focus on Britain's 250,000 "problem" drug users, who need 13,000 a year from crime to feed their habit.

However, Prof McKeganey said: "It's certainly a risky strategy in a country that has something of the order of 55,000 heroin addicts and I personally would like to have seen greater emphasis on getting people off heroin.

"It's certainly not easy to do that and providing access to heroin is certainly not the way to do that."

Prof McKeganey added: "The problem with prescribing heroin is that you're almost giving out the message that 'use heroin and don't be an addict and pay for it or use heroin and become an addict and we'll give it to you for free'."

He said there was little evidence of a "drug answer to drug addiction".

'Pragmatic steps'

However, Mike Cadger, of the drug advice service Crew 2000, said the time has come to look at "better methods of treatment".

He said: "It seems to my organisation that these are pragmatic steps and much more realistic steps and that therefore its provides us with a better opportunity to deal much more successfully with those individuals who are in trouble as a result of drug use.

"But also to take into consideration that there are significant numbers of people who do use drugs who don't get into any trouble at all."

Mr Cadger said he agreed that tackling the heroin problem required more than just a new medical approach and a move away from prescribing methadone.

Reclassifying cannabis is proposed
"The key problem in terms of drug dependency in Scotland is poverty and unless we have programmes to tackle poverty then whatever we do in terms of the medical rehabilitation, we're not going to succeed."

The MPs proposed downgrading ecstasy to a class B drug but this has been rejected by the Home Secretary David Blunkett.

The committee also supported Mr Blunkett's move to make cannabis a class C drug.

Mr Cadger expressed disappointment that the home secretary has already rejected the "pragmatic move" to downgrade ecstasy.

Prof McKeganey said: "If a pragmatic policy leads you to end up giving drugs that we know actually do kill people then that is not a policy that we want to adopt."

Prof Neil McKeganey and Mike Cadger
Drugs experts discuss the MPs' proposals for reform

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