Across the streets of the UK, different drugs are being sold to those struggling with various types of addiction. One of the most devastating drugs is heroin, and the resulting heroin addiction destroys lives. This drug continues to be a plague in the lives of so many individuals, and dealers are making a small fortune selling this drug to those who desperately need it.
However, undercover police officer Neil Woods, who spent fourteen years infiltrating various drug gangs, says that prescribing the drug to addicts is definitely something worth considering. An experiment by the US Government, where addicts were prescribed heroin, actually does work in terms of reducing harm and crime, says Mr Woods. Unfortunately, the experiment was shut down.
Drugs Law Campaigner
After spending years mixed up with drug users and dealers, Woods turned his back on police work to become a campaigner for drugs law reform. He said that Dr John Marks’ experiment into the prescription of heroin for users was ‘the most significant study’ into heroin addictions.
Dr Marks found a legal loophole that allowed him to prescribe heroin to addicts in Widnes in the eighties and nineties. Woods said that the results were ‘astonishing’. He said results included a reduction in certain crimes such as burglary by ninety-three per cent, thieves being able to hold down jobs, and prostitutes leaving the sex trade.
The underground market for heroin dramatically decreased, which led to dealers leaving the area. With the dealers gone, there was no one to push drugs, and this resulted in a reduction in the number of individuals developing heroin addiction as well as problems with other drugs, according to Woods.
He revealed that the programme, which had begun in 1982, was scrapped in 1995 when the White House put pressure on the then UK government to shut it down. He said, “Dr Marks was ‘vilified’ before having to emigrate to New Zealand.”
Woods does not believe that current drugs policies work, and he said that governments are clinging on to the idea that the best policy for battling drug issues is prohibition. He stated that they refuse to consider evidence and results that show these policies should be ‘quashed’.
Woods pointed to the heroin prescription programme in Switzerland, which was based on the study by Dr Marks, and how this has had an eighty per cent success rate in terms of getting heroin addicts weaned off the drug.
He believes that ‘all drugs are more harmful and problematic’ because of the way the criminal market works. In his book Good Cop, Bad War, he points out that criminalising drugs only leads to higher levels of brutality, and says that police tactics cause gangs to adapt, therefore allowing them to monopolise markets across smaller towns from the cities where they are based.
More Harm Than Good
Woods now believes that his work as an undercover police officer may have caused ‘more harm than good’. His belief rests on the fact that, despite combined sentences of 1,000 years for members of the gang he infiltrated, his work only resulted in the supply of drugs being interrupted for around seven minutes.
Tackling Heroin Addiction
During his time working undercover, Woods was part of the operation to take down the notorious Burger Bar Boys gang. Members of this gang would rape those who could not pay the money they owed for drugs. They preyed on those with illnesses such as heroin addiction and would instil fear in all who bought from them.
Nevertheless, Woods also worked in Brighton, where he believes dealers would tamper with the heroin they were supplying in order to cause overdoses as a way to scare those buying the drugs from them. Throughout his time undercover, he has learned one thing – decriminalisation of drugs is more effective than prohibition. He said, “The more you police it, the nastier the organised crime gangs get.”
On the Widnes experiment, he said, “I would say it’s the most significant study on heroin addiction that’s ever been done. It was over ten years, over a long period of time. It was stopped because of pressure from the American government when the paper was published about the success. Dr John Marks couldn’t work in the UK and had to emigrate.”
He is now hopeful that things could change here in the UK as there are more politicians willing to consider a change in policy. He added, “It’s very difficult to get politicians to consider it, but there are more now across the parties who are willing to look at the evidence. Things are changing.”
He believes that by moving the drug issue away from enforcement and focusing on dealing with it as a health problem, more drug treatment services could easily be afforded. He said, “Only 10% of drug users have a problem with that (any particular) drug, so chasing the 90% who don’t is a little heavy-handed but criminalising the 10% that do is simply cruel.”