Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 9th May 2006.
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to reclassify methylamphetamine as a category A drug.
This is yet another sad tale of a failing Home Office. This time, it is failing to protect people from the misuse of crystal meth, which is seriously bad news for individuals who use it and for society at large.
The widely respected New York police chief, Anthony Izzo, told the Select Committee on Science and Technology:
"Crystal meth makes crack cocaine look like a Hershey Bar."
He bases his view on hard evidence and experience. UK Sky TV news coverage showed the drug's impact on individuals and called for Government action before use of this nasty drug becomes endemic. But the Home Office says that it is not yet very prevalent in the UK and that, in effect, they will reclassify when a greater number of people have been damaged and communities are suffering more serious consequences. That is hardly the precautionary approach that the public deserve. It is hardly the action of a Government who care about their young people or want to minimise the impact of drug abuse on society.
Methylamphetamine is one of a group of psychostimulant drugs called amphetamines that act on the brain and nervous system. It is produced in tablet, powder or crystalline form. It is taken orally, snorted or injected, but unlike amphetamine, it can be smoked.
The term "crystal meth" is often used for the purer crystalline form. The drug's street names include "yaba" for tablet form, "ice", "glass", "Tina", "Christine" and "Nazi crank". It was first developed in 1919 and used by troops to keep awake. It was rumoured that Hitler injected it twice a day, hence the name "Nazi crank". The chances of getting hooked are incredible compared with other illicit drugs. Psychological and physical dependence happens quickly. It affects the brain reward pathways. Users must take more to achieve the same effects, as tolerance quickly builds up. Using the drug by intravenous injection or smoking is especially likely to cause addiction. Smoking the purer, crystalline form produces an intense rush, similar to that of crack cocaine, but much longer lasting—not only minutes but four to 12 hours. That is highly reinforcing and becomes highly addictive. The higher potency, especially when smoked, makes the drug a greater threat. It is, all too often, a one-drag-and-you're-hooked drug.
The drug's effects are appalling. They include agitation, paranoia, confusion and violence, usually against innocent bystanders. It damages more than those who take it. It can bring on feelings of exhilaration and produces increased arousal and activity levels. It causes a rapid rise in heart rate and blood pressure, and the higher the dose, the greater the effects.
The risks are enormous. Methylamphetamine-induced psychosis has been widely reported in countries where use has become endemic. High dosages lead to strokes and pulmonary, renal and gastrointestinal disorders. Coma and death can and do follow. It is a much more serious drug than the class A ecstasy that killed Leah Betts in Essex a decade ago. Yet the Government appear to have learned nothing from that tragic wake-up call.
Methylamphetamine is often injected, with sharing of paraphernalia and all the consequences of infection. The drug also increases libido and risky sexual behaviour, thereby increasing blood-borne virus transmission. Home Office research shows that the drug is especially used by the homosexual community. It is disastrous for that group to reduce sexual inhibitions or undertake ever more risky behaviour.
Methylamphetamine is currently a class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. That historical classification results from the drug's chemical association with amphetamines, which were all classified B. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which reports to and advises the Government on the classification of drugs, is as dysfunctional as the Home Office. It meets just twice a year with a quorum of only seven, but comprises 38 people, some of whom are caring, knowledgeable, professional and sensible. However, too many represent a neo-liberal, politically correct rag-bag, who appear to make decisions without excessive reference to the evidence and the consequences.
James Randerson, science correspondent for The Guardian, reported on
"blew the gaff on government claims that its drug policy is 'evidence based'."
The classification for illegal drugs is riddled with anomalies and simply does not work. That is echoed by the Science and Technology Committee's research, which found:
"Drugs are not classified on the basis of... the harm they cause."
Indeed, they are not classified according to any consistent set of criteria. On
"Lax laws 'could turn Nazi crank into global epidemic'".
The article stated:
"A new highly addictive drug used in Britain by clubbers and gay men is becoming a global problem, according to a United Nations report.
The huge increase in crystal meth is helped by lax restrictions on the chemicals used to manufacture it. People who take it can experience a ten-hour high and increased sexual arousal.
Professor Hamid Ghodse, president of the United Nations' drug control agency, said:
'If I want to pick on one major drug problem pandemic today, it is methamphetamine'."
Yet, last year, the ACMD recommended that it remained a class B drug.
Professor Nutt, a distinguished psychopharmacologist and chairman of the ACMD's technical committee, told the Science and Technology Committee that upping the classification could have the perverse effect of making the drug more desirable and thus stimulate demand. He argued that downgrading mushrooms might stimulate demand and that upgrading crystal meth would have the same effect. That is perverse and muddled thinking. I sometimes wonder whether the ACMD is personally testing the products when making decisions.
A shift up the scale could well give a drug more kudos, as Professor Nutt suggests. However, that undermines one of the key tenets of the United Kingdom's drug laws, which is that the more dangerous drugs should be placed in higher, not lower, categories because of the greater risks attached to them. The ACMD seems totally unimpressed by the principles of UK law, by international experience, or by the evidence base.
Methylamphetamine can be produced in small domestic laboratories from non-controlled precursors. I will not go into details about those precursors today, as it would not be helpful. I have asked the Home Secretary to control those precursors, but he has not done so. The ACMD recommended close monitoring of the drug's use, but this is difficult because the extent of the drug's use in Britain is, in the words of the president of the UN narcotics control board,
"hidden because seizures were included in figures for amphetamines".
The Home Office confirmed that, stating:
"The British Crime Survey does not differentiate between methylamphetamine use and amphetamines".
I respectfully maintain that the Government are failing to control the drug's precursors and not effectively monitoring its usage. That is unsustainable. The Home Secretary said that he would publish a consultation paper on a review of the drug classification system. He has not yet done so, although he promised this on, I think,
I will not keep the House for long, but I have to comment on the farrago of nonsense that we have just heard. Bob Spink has a very old-fashioned view on this matter.
Of course the Government cannot control the precursors of methylamphetamine, because they are used for a multitude of purposes. Controlling them would be entirely impractical. The hon. Gentleman has drawn to our attention a drug that is very little used in this country, and given a highly coloured account of its effects. Like many other drugs, including medicinal drugs, it certainly can have those dangerous effects in some cases, but in other cases it does not. It is used as a recreational drug, and, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, it was used as a medicine for a number of years after it was first invented, particularly in the services.
However, the hon. Gentleman has failed to make the case relating to the connection between the category in which the drug is placed and the uses of the drug. He naively believes that if we put the drug into a higher category, its use will decrease, but that is entirely untrue. The categories were created in 1971, when there were 1,000 people addicted to heroin and cocaine in Britain. Heroin and cocaine have been class A drugs ever since then, yet the number of addicts now stands at 280,000. If we were going to place all harmful drugs in an appropriate classification, we should put alcohol and tobacco into class A because of the harm that they cause.
The hon. Gentleman seems to believe the great myth that was prevalent in 1971, when the United Nations decided that it was going to get rid of drugs all over the world. There was to be a great united effort from every country. However, the result was entirely perverse. In the subsequent years, we have seen a great increase in the use of drugs throughout the countries that signed up to the United Nations convention. We are now supporting a convention established by the UN in 1998, which states that we will aim for the "elimination" of all drug use, and of the growing of poppies and the plants for cannabis and cocaine production, within 10 years. That period ends in 2008, yet the world has made absolutely no progress towards achieving that aim.
People believe that prohibition works, but we need only to consider our own experience in Afghanistan, where the British taxpayer has spent £115 million to eliminate poppy growth. The evidence suggests that next year will see a record growth of heroin poppies there. In Colombia, the Americans have spent $4.7 billion on Plan Colombia, but next year will see a 20 per cent. growth in the coca crops there.
The lesson for this Bill is that prohibition of drugs does not work; it creates a market, which enriches itself through greater sales. We should not change the classification, which will have no effect. The hon. Gentleman speaks with disrespect of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but it said that cannabis should change category, which resulted not in an increase in cannabis use in Britain but a decrease. He must accept the logic of that. He is saying that we should carry on with a failed policy from the past, but what we should do is learn from the experience of those such as the Benelux countries, Germany and Australia, but principally Portugal, which in 2001 de-penalised all drugs. As a result, the number of drug deaths in Portugal is now half what it was in 2001. The Bill is misguided.
Question put, pursuant to
Bill ordered to be brought in by Bob Spink, James Duddridge, Angus Robertson, Mr. George Mudie, Mr. Robert Goodwill, Mr. Brooks Newmark, Angela Watkinson, Mr. Lee Scott, Mr. Philip Hollobone, Ann Winterton and Philip Davies.