Margo MacDonald: No quick fixes in drugs policy

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Get shot of methadone. Methadone is just the same as heroin. Addicts are being parked on the heroin substitute and left for years. Some addicts continue to take heroin even when they’re on the methadone programme.

Just a selection of the more polite comments made about the report on methadone produced this week. The somewhat confused response from the possibly falling number of people with any interest in what politicians predictably called the “war” against drugs. That is illegal drugs, of course, not the legal ones that can be lethal, too. It´s possible that most of us just find “drugs” so foreign to our lifestyle, and so complicated, that we back off. In doing that we create an invisible fence between ourselves and drug-takers we may have seen taking their medicine at the local pharmacy.

But some people don’t pass by on the other side from the methadone takers. Most of them are probably very responsible and caring, and many of them are utterly opposed to heroin users being stabilised on methadone. They see methadone as simply a legally supplied heroin substitute. They´re wrong, and they´ve been wrong for 30 years now.

Methadone is simply one of a range of treatments for tackling addiction in some people. It’s not suitable for everyone, but some can benefit from taking a measured supply, under supervision, in a very similar way as you or I are able to function because of the medication prescribed for our conditions. And just as some patients don’t respond to treatment prescribed for them by their GP, and are prescribed an alternative, so some people are unsuited to a regime that by and large, is self-regulated. The big difference lies in the ease with which the clinician can smoothly change the patient’s treatment from methadone to another regime that may entail residential care. It’s an expensive alternative if the patient takes ages to be judged drugs-free and capable of living away from the support he or she has enjoyed.

Also, some people believe that a regime of medically prescribed and administered heroin is preferable to methadone. They are probably correct in some cases, but they usually reserve their firepower for the easier target, long-time methadone users.

The comments and criticism of drugs policies this week has confirmed my opinion that the whole
policy area needs gutted.

Questions for forces’ big day

Isn’t it a terrific coincidence that Stirling has been chosen as the venue for the celebration of Armed Forces Day around the same time as the souped-up celebration of the Battle of Bannockburn will take place? Before the decision to go to Stirling was taken by the men from the ministry, Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, had probably never heard of the battle that firmly established Scotland as a sovereign nation. But, as our national Bard might have put it, “he kens noo”. He might think it a great idea to fuse the two celebrations.

The cupboard will be raided for speeches recalling the great battles won by British forces in which Scots subsumed their distinctiveness and fought shoulder to shoulder with Green Howards, Welsh Guards, comrades from Ulster, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. The emphasis will be on reminding Scots that Bannockburn was a long time ago, and in the past it must remain.

But will the would-be manipulators from the Ministry of Defence be just as brutally honest when it comes to describing the future role and capabilities of the men and machines whose job it will be to defend Scotland and the other parts of the UK that will remain after Scotland is independent? Assuming that after all the argy-bargy is concluded the sensible decision is made to co-operate on a joint defence of the British Isles, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, the contribution to the joint standing forces from an English government is likely to be minimal. That certainly will be the case if its size reflects the reduced force, down to 80,000 troops, currently planned for the defence of the realm.

The truth is that Armed Forces Day will be a big fat con job, unless Westminster admits its intentions to cut its defence spending to sustaining a much smaller force. Doubts have been expressed, not about Scotland’s ability to pay her whack into a joint kitty, but about the percentage of her own GDP that England could afford without the current top-up revenue from Scotland’s oil-driven GDP. Supporters of the philosophy of an ill wind blowing someone some good will consider it proved if this helps to bring about a more realistic expectation of what the possible successor force of the British Army as we once knew it might look like