Gerry Farrell: It's time we stopped jailing drug addicts

HOW do you feel about heroin addicts? It's a question I've been asking myself since we found a pile of used needles under Great Junction Street Bridge on Sunday morning. I know some people's first reaction is to say 'effing junkies'.

Wednesday, 6th April 2016, 1:51 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th April 2016, 1:57 pm
Used syringes found under Great Junction Street Bridge. Picture: supplied

Addicts don’t just abuse themselves. They wreck the lives of those close to them – family, friends and partners. They lie and steal. They mug people for drug money. And they encourage other people to stick needles in their veins.

Having said that, I think what we felt as we put the dirty needles into our “safe box” was simply sadness. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers song Under The Bridge started playing in my head, the last verse in particular: “Under the bridge downtown/Is where I drew some blood/Under the bridge downtown/I could not get enough/Under the bridge downtown/Forgot about my love/Under the bridge downtown/I gave my life away.” Anthony Kiedis, the band’s lead vocalist, wrote the song when he was clean. The lyrics will resonate with a lot of heroin-addicted men and women. Once you’ve got your drugs you can’t wait to shoot up. You need to find somewhere nobody will see you – under the bridge. Your hands are shaking so you miss the vein again and again. You get the rush of pure bliss when the heroin hits home. Hours later, arms bleeding, you’re miserable again, looking back at the people you’ve alienated or stolen from, wondering how you got this way, living in squalor, already focused on your next fix.

When they made the first Trainspotting film, Edinburgh was the heroin capital of Europe. Filming is now under way for Trainspotting 2. Are things any better? The so-called “War on Drugs” isn’t working. The drug warriors have always argued that drug use would sky-rocket if we decriminalised drugs. I’m always sceptical when people claim they can predict the future because, so often, they turn out to be mistaken. In this case, they’re well wide of the mark. For proof of how wrong they are, we only need to look as far as our European neighbour, Portugal.

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In 1999, nearly one per cent of the Portuguese population was addicted to heroin. The death rate from overdoses and HIV-related illnesses was the highest in Europe. Then in 2001, the Portuguese government decriminalised ALL drugs; weed, cocaine, crack, heroin, you name it. They made drug use a public health issue, not a criminal one. Drugs are still illegal but getting caught with them means a small fine and referral to a treatment programme – not jail time and a criminal record. Freeing their citizens from fear of prosecution and imprisonment makes them more likely to seek and accept treatment. Fifteen years on, drug abuse is down by half. However you choose to measure it – and all the charts and graphs are available online – the Portuguese decriminalisation model has been a resounding success.

With an election in the offing, the SNP is highly unlikely to modify its current ultra-cautious policies on drug abuse. It is particularly allergic to critical headlines – in fact it’s terrified. I blame this on its jelly-legged spin-doctors rather than the politicians. However, if it achieves a majority at Holyrood, the party might find the courage to face the future and emulate the achievements of the Portuguese. Of course, there’s the small matter of Westminster which is turning in the opposite direction, upgrading cannabis, for example to a Class B drug, with harsher sentences for possession. Addicts should be in hospitals, not prisons. All drugs should be decriminalised. Scotland needs to find its brave heart and lead the way.

Mind the dust now . . we’re on the move

When my wife suggested we should move to a smaller house so we could pay off the mortgage, I freaked out at first. We don’t live in a big house but it’s high up so we can look out over Edinburgh from its two balconies. And it’s full of light, that’s the thing that made us fall in love with it. Oh and you get a perfect view of Easter Road Stadium. Relocation is never a pleasant experience. Packing takes a month. You sneeze all day from the dust that’s been stirred up. You put your back out lifting furniture.

Looking for a new house is much easier than it used to be. The property classifieds used to have one photograph of the front of the house and a load of flowery copy underneath, full of abbreviations like “lvng rm” and “mod cons”.

Now you can look at every room in loving detail. You can check out the floorplan.

And you can even do your measurements before you go to see the place.

The bit I dread, though, is the decluttering. It has to be done. We own so much junk that if the house caught fire I’d be relieved. Up in the loft are four huge boxes full of fishing tackle. Waders, reels, lures, fly-boxes, rod cases, one entire box of fly-tying equipment, a pike-unhooking mat, two magnifying desk lamps (for continuing to tie flies when your eyesight fails), a spare landing net and two salmon rods. In my wardrobe are 15 shirts that I love but don’t quite fit into any more. I have three shelves of flyfishing books, two shelves of Elmore Leonard novels and two shelves of advertising books. I have a huge framed photograph of George Best holding a Hibs scarf aloft on the day we signed him. Naturally, there are also full shelves of CDs and DVDs that we haven’t watched for years.

Somebody once said that “the best way to find out what you really need is to get rid of what you don’t” so I’ve decide that’s going to be my mantra as we set out on our little adven-ture. The charity shops better watch out. We’re coming.

RIP wee man

Ronnie Corbett was a giant of comedy. He could deliver a punchline with perfect timing or tell an anecdote that wandered all over the place but came back with a wallop at the end. This funny story of his combines both skills:

A man was marooned on a desert island. One day a beautiful woman arrives in a wet suit. “When did you last have a smoke?” she asks. “Five years ago.” So she gets out a cigar and he smokes it.

She unzips her wet suit a bit and says: “When did you last have a drink?” He replies: “Five years ago.” So she gets out a bottle of Scotch and he has a drink.

Then she unzips her wet suit a bit more and asks: “And when was the last time you played around?” He looks at her in amazement and says: “You’re not telling me you’ve got a set of golf clubs in there?”