Drugs Laws Don't Work: the Phoney War is a Documentary programme.

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Drugs Laws Don't Work: the Phoney War

Award-winning journalist NICK DAVIES argues that Heroin should be legalised. Davies reveals that it is not the drug itself which causes so much misery but the blackmarket on which it is sold. Decriminalise heroin so doctors can prescribe it in a controlled way, Davies argues, and at a stroke you will not only rescue hundreds of thousands of addicts from illness and death but also save the £1.7 billion a year which we currently spend on the war against drugs.

Heroin is highly addictive, but in its pure form its other side effects are mild. They include constipation and drowsiness. Dr. Teresa Tate of the Marie Curie Cancer Centre used morphine to treat victims of painful forms of cancer. Heroine and morphine are very similar drugs. (The medical term for heroin is diamorphine) and Dr Tate explains that the drugs work in the same way. She describes morphine as a "very safe drug to use". Dr. Tate also tells Davies that an overdose of paracetamol is more dangerous than a diamorphine overdose. Diamorphine might cause sleepiness while an overdose of paracetamol is likely to cause liver failure leading to death.

It is the functioning of the black market in heroin that cause addicts to die miserable deaths. Dealers never sell pure heroin because they can make more money from mixing it with substances like sand. These impurities have terrible consequences for health. When injected into veins they block blood supply causing gangrene - leading to amputation. And addicts use dirty needles to inject their heroin. It is the infection caused by these needles, rather than the heroin itself that can lead to life threatening infections.

Davies journeys across the battlefields of the war against drugs and encounters its most vulnerable victims - addicts dying slowly on the streets. BRIAN HENDERSON was introduced to heroin by a old friend. Within months Brian had lost his job, his family and his home. He ended injecting heroin into his groin in a desperate search for a fresh vein. The main femoral artery in his leg became infected causing a gross and life threatening swelling. He was rushed to hospital; operated on and ended up with a hole the size of an orange in his leg. Brian is typical of many.

But Davies meets some who have been saved from the battlefield using tactics politicians refuse to condone. MARCIA LEISHMAN had a 10-year-old heroin habit and was earning money through prostitution when she was taken on a scheme run by psychiatrist Dr. Anne Read. She gave Marcia a regular, controlled dose of pure heroin used in combination with counselling and support. Read says controlling the addiction gives the patient time to think about their family, their job, getting a life instead of getting heroin. Marcia is about to come off heroin and has given up prostitution. She is indebted to Dr Read. "If it wasn't for Anne Read I wouldn't be here now. I'd be dead," she says. At the moment the use of morphine is strictly licensed and a very limited number of doctors are permitted to prescribe it.

Official drugs policy focuses on education, treatment and law enforcement but only 13% of the money used to fight drugs is used on treatment and two thirds is spent on law enforcement - targeting dealers. Nick Davies interviews the government's 'Drugs Czar' KEITH HELLAWELL about the focus of his strategy. Hellawell insists that his plan must be given 10 years and claims inroads are being made into the interception of drugs offshore.

But evidence exists that the supply of dirty street heroin is ever plentiful. In Merseyside one gram of heroin costs only £20. According to drug adviser ALLAN PARRY "you can get it delivered to your door quicker than a pizza." Davies speaks to some of the policemen responsible for implementing Hellawell's strategy. They believe the war on drug dealers will never be won.

Nick Davies argues that the government's 'war on drugs' inflicts misery on the very people its supposed to help. He says that we should provide addicts with a safe, controlled supply of heroin. Crime would fall, social exclusion would be reduced and the taxpayer would be spared £1 billion a year.

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 60 minutes (approx)