Politicians may not like it but our son needs medical help, not prison, say the parents of a heroin addict
We were pleased to read Simon Jenkins's article on Professor David Nutt's report which, he says, "draws a distinction between the harm done by mind altering substances to the individual and the harm done to the wider society" (Britain's drugs hypocrisy is a giant self-inflicted wound, 3 November).
Our personal experience as parents whose youngest son became involved with heroin, and who is suffering the consequences 10 years on, has led us to the view that if you can reduce the harm to the individual then a reduction of the harm to society will take care of itself – after all, society is a collection of individuals. This approach would be opposite to that taken by current and previous governments and their agencies, whose primary focus has been on reducing the harm to society caused by alcohol and drugs.
Our son is talented and able, but he made unfortunate choices in his late teens. He tries to work and contribute to society but he has an illness – addiction – brought on by heroin. We believe that, instead of being treated as a criminal, he should be treated as someone who needs medical help. If this was done and his illness cured, he would be able to make a full contribution to society. However, this is not what our society does.
The current criminalisation of class A drug users reminds us of the fictional society in Erewhon, by Samuel Butler, where individuals who are ill are convicted and sentenced by a criminal court. Last year our son received a conviction. Though this was technically correct, the reality is that he is a drug user on prescribed methadone, registered with a drug treatment agency, who was caught up in a police operation. The operation appeared to be designed to show the public that the police were "doing something about drugs" and was not designed to help individuals or society.
As Jenkins remarked, Alan Johnson – the former home secretary who sacked Professor Nutt last year – was "a typical Labour headline grabber". Our son recently told us: "Unfortunately the best way to treat addicts is not the best way to get votes." It is also, as Jenkins points out, a reflection of the government "being obsessed ... with taboo drugs designated as illicit and filling prisons with the resulting miscreants".
As taxpayers we are dismayed at the amount spent on the police operation and legal proceedings to convict our son; and as parents we are deeply saddened that his illness can be treated with such contempt by the police force and legal system.
Many excellent people are now supporting our son. However, we remain very concerned that his addiction is being maintained by his methadone programme and feel strongly that this is designed to reduce the harm to society rather than help him.
We strongly agree with Jenkins that "there is no need for any more reports, seminars, committees or thinktanks". Politicians need a different perspective on the problems of drugs and alcohol, and should listen to Professor Nutt, his colleagues, and those who have intimate experiences of the reality of drugs and the harm they can do.
• The authors wish to remain anonymous
Tuesday 23 November 2010
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