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« Firefighting is not a full-time occupation | Main | Clock off if you want to smoke »

The heroin addict

Alcohol 'more harmful than heroin' says Professor David Nutt, the former UK chief drugs adviser who was sacked by the government in October 2009. Try telling that to a former colleague of mine whose son was addicted to heroin.

Some years ago, when I was editor of Freedom Today, the Freedom Association magazine, I interviewed him (the ex-colleague) about his son's addiction. This is what he told me:

We knew my son was taking heroin. We didn't have proof but we'd speak to him on the phone and you could tell that he was high on something. I can't describe what's like when you discover that your child is injecting drugs. It's horrific, unbelievable. The worst part is the feeling of impotence. I've taken him into rehab twice. The first time he walked out within two hours and the second time he walked out the next morning.

Three hits a day [in 2001] costs £210 a week. To fund that sort of habit a heroin addict needs to steal and to my knowledge Stephen has been shoplifting for at least three years. As a result he's been in jail four or five times now and the consensus of opinion is that if he spent a prolonged period in prison - two or three years - that would have a material affect on his addiction. Instead shoplifting is classified as a 'misdemeanor' so he only gets four or five months and it's just a vicious spiral of drug taking, offending, imprisonment, re-offending and so on.

Visiting my son in prison was one of the worst things I've had to do as a father. But it seems to be worse for the mothers. They've nurtured them; they've done everything in their power to look after them until they become adults. Even now, when he comes to us for help, the first thing my wife does is cook him a meal because if he's got some food inside him at least he's going to be OK for a day or two.

Basically he's a good lad. In a normal frame of mind he wouldn't steal. It's against his nature to do it. He knows it hurts us and normally he wouldn't want to do that. We've pleased with him to do something about it but none of it works. The drug is more powerful than any other emotion he may have.

Although drugs are easily available in prison my son chooses not to take drugs when he is inside because he wants to get off them and he feels this is one way he can get clean. But as soon as he comes out he starts again. He's tried several times to do cold turkey but it never lasts more than three days. On the third day the craving for the drug is so strong that he just has to go out and get it.

A fortnight ago we told him he could no longer live at home and he has now left. That's the second time we've thrown him out of the house and we've done it because everyone says the only thing you can do with an addict is to leave them to get as low as possible and only when they get to their lowest ebb will they consider doing something about their habit.

My son has brought shame and humiliation on the family. We've got a rather unusual surname so when he gets caught for shoplifting dozens of people who know us see it in the paper. We've been tempted to move house but we've lived in the same town all our lives and we like it here.

Since this began my wife has suffered physically and I fight depression constantly. It's a living nightmare. His brother despises him. His sister feels very much like we do, very sad. You wake up every day and can't forget about it.

A lot of parents in our situation might disown their child but we don't think that's right. You're a parent for life and you want to protect them. We love our children and we love our son and we want to do the best for him.

There will be an end to it, I'm sure, but we're not there yet. The way I look at it, and the way everyone has told me to look at it, is that every time he reoffends we're a step nearer him coming off the drug because they all go through this spiral of re-offending until ultimately they do come off it.

Taking soft drugs is the start of a road to nowhere. You just take stronger and harder drugs. You may think you can handle it but I think there is a certain percentage of people who take drugs who can't cope and if you're one of those people you just go down and down and down.

My son is injecting heroin and that's as bad as it gets. We tell him about Aids, we try and frighten him out of it, but it doesn't do any good. He still carries on. If I could do something to get him off heroin I would do it today. But there's nothing I can do. It's down to him. That is the tragic thing about it.

If we had a choice, though, we would rather live with this than have him die. That would be terrible. That would too much to bear.

Alcoholism, I accept, is no laughing matter but alcohol 'more harmful than heroin'? Not in general, it ain't, especially when consumed in moderation. (Can you consume heroin in moderation? My understanding is that you can't because it is so addictive.)

Of course there have long been claims that nicotine is as addictive as heroin (Independent, 1998) but when was the last time you heard of a nicotine addict stealing to get the money to feed his next 'fix' and ending up in jail or putting his family through the experiences described above?

I rest my case.

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  • Response
    Response: HEROIN V ALCOHOL
    My alcoholic friend took five years of very heavy drinking to become physically addicted to alcohol. My heroin addicted friend took just a few hits before the smack took a grip

Reader Comments (27)

All part of the softening up process. Brainwashed for a few years with a compliant media and BANG - in come the restrictions and bans. And the sheep will say 'Probably for the best'.

Stroll on death.

November 1, 2010 at 10:36 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Just a quick reminder that nicotinre is not addictive from this Israeli paper.

"In the new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Dr. Reuven Dar of Tel Aviv University's Department of Psychology found that the intensity of cravings for cigarettes had more to do with the psychosocial element of smoking than with the physiological effects of nicotine as an addictive chemical.

"These findings might not be popular with advocates of the nicotine addiction theory, because they undermine the physiological role of nicotine and emphasize mind over matter when it comes to smoking," Dr. Dar says."

November 1, 2010 at 11:35 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

"Stroll on death."

Maybe we're dead already, Frank - and just don't know it yet !

And as for the Nutty Professor...........................

All I want to know is: what the hell has the Cosmic Imp been taking lately ? Whatever it is, the trip's been going on just a little too long now.

November 1, 2010 at 11:48 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

I've interviewed heroin addicts. I've seen a young girl of 17 on a £200 a day habit - I've seen a young heroin addicted mother locked up in fear at who would get her daughter from school. I've been a committee member of a group that supports the family and friends of heroin users. Heroin use is nothing at all like tobacco use. There just isn't any comparison.

As a court reporter for more than 12 years, I've seen the devstation caused by heroin. Some of those young people have since died. So many of them desperate to give up. So many of them violently ill if they try. So many easily pulled back to it if they manage. I agree a severe alcohol addiction can be as bad as a heroin addiction because of the physical need for the drug for I maintain that even that is not as descructive as a heroin addiction which causes people to do things they would never have imagined themselves having to - stealing, selling their bodies, committing crime against their families and friends, risking prison contstantly.

I have never seen anyone who wants to quit smoking not being able to do so easily. I have never seen a smoker convicted for theft to fund a tobacco habit.

The only reason smoking is compared to a heroin addiction is because it is part of the "denormalisation" of smokers as "weak, patehtic addicts." It is yet another lie by tthe anti-smokers in their quest to spread fear and prejudice of tobacco consumers.

They should be prosecuted for hate crime. They are minimsiisng the very serious problem of heroin addiction. They are giving a dangerous message. Those who have smoked and quit easily may try heroin thinking it is as easy to quit as smoking. It is not. It will ruin them if they survive.

When I get time later, I will dig out an interview I did with a heroin addict and the parents of heroin addictsn and blog them. The facts speak for themselves, Propaganda speaks for the prejudice of those who would eradicte our cutlutre using any means possible.

These are disgusting and highly dangerous people.

November 1, 2010 at 11:55 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

.. A final note ..

"If we had a choice, though, we would rather live with this than have him die. That would be terrible. That would too much to bear."

A father I interviewed whose son hung himself in prison because it was the only way he could free himself of his addiction told me that when his son's body came home, he finally had his son back. Heroin had taken him and made him into something his father could not recognise. He could not reach him during the throes of that addiction.

November 1, 2010 at 12:18 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

"when was the last time you heard of a nicotine addict stealing to get the money to feed his next 'fix' "

OK, but things would be different if we depended on the black market, which is where they seem to want us to go.
OK it works fine at the moment, but when the crims have a complete stranglehold on the suoply I can honestly see whatever's left of society caoming apart. Not that you'd notice th difference.

November 1, 2010 at 12:19 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Speller

Yes it's the heroin addiction that ruins their lives.
Heroin addicts who can afford the habit don't steal fo it do they.
Decriminilisation is the answer.
The powers that be need to get real on this ,the war on drugs was lost the minute they started it.
Are they listening ?
No ,too frightened of a bad write up in the Daily Mail.

November 1, 2010 at 12:44 | Unregistered CommenterMcgraw

I entirely agree McGraw. The problem of drug use is the fact that it lies hidden underground before parents such as the one Simon mentions knows about it and the worst damage has been done before help can be given.

drug laws use the power of the state against vulnerable people who have already been used by drug barons.

the only way to win the drug war is to stop making enemies of people who need help and support and take profits from the hands of the criminal gangs and put it into the hands of the state.

How many chavs currently criticised for being on benefits would move over to become market gardeners if the growing of (in Nutt's own assessment) the least harmful dug cannabis was decriminalised.

Give people opportunities - don't make them criminals. Back it up with education and drugs awareness based on truth and not propaganda and we are half way towards winning the drug war.

November 1, 2010 at 13:17 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

What Nutt is as actually saying is that alcohol causes more harm than heroin. The problem is with journalists who want sensational headlines. The harm is the product of the average harm inflicted on each user mulltiplied by the number of users; plus the harm caused to other people and society in general.. Nutt said on R5 this morning that the average harm per user is greater for heroin and crack, but there are fewer users. That is why alcohol tops the harm charts.
I agree with Mcgraw. Legalise heroin. It is the illegality that kills. Imagine what poisonous concoctions we would be drinking were alcohol made illegal or very expensive.

November 1, 2010 at 13:43 | Unregistered Commenterjon

The fact of the matter is that they will never control drugs.
And the way its heading now with the quangos in compliance with government funding criminalise smokers, they are going to force tobacco sales down the same blackmarket path.
If the Quangos put the millions of pounds they waste on the same brainwashing techniques as they do for the legal cirarette smoking habit of smokers, people would be perfectly satisfied with that and welcome it because it makes sense.
But the lazy inept quango bloodsuckers dont do illegal.
Not when there's an easy target within reach that can give better results and make themselves feel good because its easier to change the minds and scare the shite out of ordinary law abiding citizen, rather than takle the mafia.
It also gives purpose to their useless gravytrain jobsworth of conferences, media interviews and perks and they can clap themselves on the back when another bail out country needs funding for pushing through more total smoking bans.
Meanwhile our young are dying of lethal drugs.
But thats all right.

November 1, 2010 at 14:45 | Unregistered Commenterann

Taking soft drugs is the start of a road to nowhere. You just take stronger and harder drugs. You may think you can handle it but I think there is a certain percentage of people who take drugs who can't cope and if you're one of those people you just go down and down and down.

Sorry, but this simply isn't true. It's a myth. I lived through the 60s when cannabis became fashionable. People mostly did NOT go on to take harder and harder drugs. Some people, of course, would try anything. But most people who smoked cannabis were no different from anybody else, and went on to live lives as productive as anybody's, and furthermore they carried on smoking cannabis. Cannabis use is now endemic in this country, and it has been for over 40 years. If you're 60 years old, most probably about half the people you know will have smoked cannabis at some point in their lives, and are quite likely still smoking it now and then.

In addition, I've smoked opium a couple of times. Very nice it was too. I instantly understood what opium smokers so enjoy (and presumably heroin users too, since heroin is derived from opium). Did I become addicted to opium after my two experiences with it? No. Not at all. I imagine that you probably have to take a lot of it before you become addicted (if 'addiction' is the right word), but that's beyond my experience.

The idea that soft drugs are a slippery slope to addiction to ever more powerful drugs is exactly like saying that driving a 2CV is the beginning of a long slippery slope to driving Jaguars and Aston Martins and finally F1 racing cars, with all the attendant death (e.g. Ayton Senna, Jim Clark, and countless others). Yes, some people get 'addicted' to speed, and drive faster and faster cars, and quite often end up dead. But most people don't get much further than a Ford or a Toyota. And don't want to go any further anyway.

November 1, 2010 at 15:48 | Unregistered Commenteridlex

In addition, Simon, I suspect that your colleague had little or no personal experience of drugs. He wouldn't have made that stupid remark about soft drugs if he had. And back in the 60s, while there were lots of people who smoked cannabis (some of whom took lots of other things as well), there were plenty of people who didn't. At the time I estimated that it was about half.

Now, who is likely to be a better parent: the never-user of drugs, or the experienced user? The first is not likely to recognise the signs of drugs use, and will most likely be full of misconceptions about them. A son or daughter would be unlikely to confide in a strict never-user parent. They would be extremely secretive about it. And the parent would end up finding out only when things had deteriorated to the point of no return, as did your colleague, it would seem. How much better if a drug-experienced parent could recognise what was happening, drawing on his or her own real experience, and deliver a warning to their son that would carry far more weight than any other..

I was recently talking to a mother whose 14-year-old son had taken up smoking cannabis. How did she know? She recognised the odour, and recognised the plant. And she had a long talk to her son about it. She couldn't ban him from smoking it, given that she occasionally smokes it herself. She's worried, of course, that her son will go on to harder drugs. But at least she's there, at his side, knowing what he's doing, rather than not knowing, and saying stupid things which aren't true.

November 1, 2010 at 16:46 | Unregistered Commenteridlex

idlex, this is an interesting debate and you are entitled to your opinion but I don't care for your dismissal of someone else's honest opinion as a "stupid remark", especially when that opinion is based on talking to a lot of people with greater experience of the subject than either of us.

Disagree if you will but that sort of comment is typical, if I may say so, of the arrogant libertarian who is just as intolerant of others as the people he/she derides. It's not an attractive trait.

November 1, 2010 at 17:01 | Registered CommenterSimon Clark

In my opinion the problem with drugs is that there is no sense of scale or realistic idea of harms cause when freely available.

It might be that when they ban caffeine users will turn to cocaine because that's as convenient and as stigmatised in society.

Really an idea of relative harm to health isolated from idealistic control freakery should be available and used to educate and properly regulate all substances. I believe that Prof Nutt is trying to show current comparisons in this way because he's trying to support proper regulation of illicit drugs. Unfortunately it doesn't work because the social trends are geared towards moralistic banning rather than liberalising and common sense.

November 1, 2010 at 17:15 | Unregistered CommenterKate

In my vast experience of drug users in a professional capacity, I can say that soft drug use does not lead to hard drug use. It is always about "drug of choice."

Heroin addicts wouldn't touch cannabis, cannabis users wouldn't touch speed, amphetamine addicts don't drink much alcohol etc...

I've waited for the next "issue" in the war on smokers to claim that tobacco users will go onto cannabis and then heroin etc... it just won't happen but I'm surprised they haven't claimed it to be true.

In truth, those using "soft" drugs are only more likely to move on to "hard" drugs because of the illegality of drugs and the fact that it brings them into contact with dealers who have more goods on offer in their stash bags and persuasive means of selling it - or giving it away initially to create the addiction and therefore a long standing and regular customer .

Certainly when the heroin network was set up in my home county, the dealers went for the poor and the thick. A £5 bag of heroin initially is cheaper than a night out and therefore more affordable. It is only when physical tolerance builds that more and more is needed and that's why a £5 a day habit can very soon spiral to a £200 a day habit with the user needing even more to feel "normal" and to stop the pain of withdrawal which is immediate on waking each day..

The anti-smokers like ASH have done public health a great disservice with the war on smoking. Imagine what they could have achieved - and how many real lives they could have saved - if they'd targeted their wealthy resources towards those drugs that do cause real harm for both the user and society.

November 1, 2010 at 17:42 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Disagree if you will but that sort of comment is typical, if I may say so, of the arrogant libertarian who is just as intolerant of others as the people he/she derides.

It's got nothing to do with libertarianism. It has to do with experience.

In truth, those using "soft" drugs are only more likely to move on to "hard" drugs because of the illegality of drugs and the fact that it brings them into contact with dealers who have more goods on offer


November 1, 2010 at 18:38 | Unregistered Commenteridlex

Some years ago I interviewed prisoners who were serving six months or less as part of a study on recidivism. All were young males, late teens to mid twenties, all the offences were drug-related and all were serial offenders. By their own admission, few were unlikely not to re-offend because, as soon as they left prison, they plunged yet again into the geographical area and culture from which they'd come. ( I went in one Monday morning to be told that a prisoner who'd been released on the previous Friday had been found dead from a heroin overdose by his five year old son.) On the one hand their sentences were long enough for their bodies to become sensitised to heroin but too short for any real, positive rehabilitation.

What astonished me was that 'on the outside' these people were mixing a number of different types of drug on a daily basis. As well as heroin they were using crack, cannabis, prescription drugs, alcohol.

They'd got embroiled in drugs by dealers targetting, and cyncally selling at discounted prices. One dealer who I interviewed said that he never touched the stuff - it was for mugs.

The people I interviewed were among ASH's target group - The Poor who have to be encouraged to 'make the right choices' about their health. Quite frankly smoking fags was the least of their worries in a hopeless, nightmarish vicious circle.

November 1, 2010 at 18:46 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

Surely anyone with at least an ounce of sense can see that it is the very criminalisation of 'drugs' that has led to the massive power of the international drug cartels ?

And it is precisely that power which in turn has led to the massive corruption of officials, police, judiciary, intelligence agencies, and politicians in so many countries, in addition to the oft-repeated (though not often enough) observation that so many drug-users themselves feel compelled to hurt and steal from others in order to sustain their habit.

One way or another, EVERYONE suffers - and none more so than in the poorer nations of the world.

It doesn't take the brains of a nuclear physicist to figure out (even a 'Daily Mail' health reporter could do it) that if a heroin addict had - at the mere cost of registering his name - lifelong access to a free supply of clean drugs and equipment from humane and kindly people ready to help him get off the habit whenever HE chose, that THAT's the option he'd go for in preference to theft, burglary, and robbery-with-violence (to say nothing of an uncertain future in some malodorous squat).

Would I be willing to see some of my tax pounds go to funding such an enterprise ?

You bet I would ! This is one area in which the State could REALLY serve us all.

A considerably Lesser Evil to destroy the Greater Evil that has inflicted so much harm on Society.

Ultimately, it is the perpetual close-minded stupidity of the curtain-twitchers in Acacia Avenue and the Morality Mafia everywhere that puts money into the pockets of the Medellin syndicate, and all its friends and associates around the world.

And I'm not just talking about certain ex-Presidents (and ex-heads of the CIA) with a fondness for sailing big boats off the Florida coast.

Ultimately, the War On Drugs (gimme a break) is a War On Society itself.

Good Intentions? Tell me about it..........................................

November 1, 2010 at 18:50 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

I am generally with nut on this one, he is after all supposed to be an expert.

However, I don't think he is being perfectly honest in his conclusions. Not surprisingly as being entirely honest is far more then Dr Nuts job, perhaps even life is worth.

As an expert on the subject of illegal drugs, he must have done at least a passing amount of research regarding why certain drugs are illegal and why others are not.

Research or not, it would seem common sensical that MONEY, and therefore POWER like so many other things, is the root of whatever evil may be apparent.

The truth is that drugs of either the legal or illegal kind are BIG BUSINESS for all concerned. Which very much includes BIG GOVERNMENT as it does the small or big time dealer, smuggler, or producer.

Illegal drugs make exceedingly large amounts of black cash for the establishment whether they are directly taxed, or not in many ways. The most important being the enormous sums made by elements within our own establishment that are then used to covertly corrupt society in general and our political class in particular.

This is the ONLY reason why certain drugs were made illegal in the first place, why they are still illegal today, and why they are very likely to remain illegal in the future however much damage high priced, and therefore freely available illegal drugs do to the individual and society as a whole.

You can be absolutely certain of this.

Contrary to popular consensus, it is perfectly possible to stop all but the smallest trickle of illegal drugs being imported into the UK. The most obvious method being a massive reduction in the price to almost zero, which is easy because close to zero is the actual cost of production.

If the price was low enough the establishment, along with their underworld connections, would no longer bother being involved in the importation or distribution of illegal drugs. Therefore you would be amazed at how quickly what independent smugglers and producers still remained, would be caught tried, and convicted.

November 1, 2010 at 23:29 | Unregistered CommenterAtlas shrugged

Isn't there a certain amount of self-publicity with this Nutt chap?

And do his results stack up? If someone has smoked some cannabis, downed a bottle of vodka and injected themselves with heroin, if they then beat to death a pensioner to steal money for their next heroin fix, which drug has caused the most damage to society?

November 2, 2010 at 0:50 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

I have experiense of the down side of both booze and heroin, and while both differ greatly they can be equally destructive. Decriminalize heroin, and controlling the price would put an end to most of the horrors your friend endured.
I find it strange that someone so vocal in standing up to the hysterical anti-smoking lobby would be led along by the nose when it comes to this subject.

November 2, 2010 at 9:15 | Unregistered Commentermarsyas

This is an incredibly harrowing story Simon, and one no doubt repeated across the land, up and down the social scale. It still remains true that what Professor Nutt was implying through his research is that Alcohol does more harm to society as a whole, not on an individual basis. It is time for us to have an honest rational debate about the drugs being used by people, the harm they do, and the best way to combat this.

November 2, 2010 at 13:17 | Unregistered CommenterClem the Gem

Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, eh? It's perfectly possible to take heroin in moderation.

November 2, 2010 at 14:18 | Unregistered CommenterDisco Biscuit

I agree Clem the Gem. We need to look at which drugs do the most and least harm. But we need to consider how legalisation/regulation could benefit or harm too. As this says, sometimes politics can get in the way-

November 2, 2010 at 16:24 | Unregistered Commenter92sm064

Do you have the right to incarcerate those who disagree with you, about what substances they ingest? Do you? Are you pleased with your success?

Making something illegal doesn't stop it happening, it just obliges you to jail those who disobey you.

Theft, violence, fraud. Those you may outlaw. Otherwise, mind your own business. Humans are not tame.

Freedom is more important than security.

November 7, 2010 at 22:24 | Unregistered CommenterZaphod

So, is one person's freedom worth more than the security of someone else?

If so, who decides?

November 9, 2010 at 11:16 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Farm animals have security, but no freedom.

YOU can't have security on this planet unless YOU get in a cage.

If the heroin addict steals from you, lock him up.
But you want to lock people up because they MIGHT steal from someone? "Oh, it's what that type do, druggies."

The addict who has not been convicted of violence, theft, or fraud is no business of yours. He's got enough problems of his own. Butt out.

Do you expect them to respect/fear you when they get out? Will they be grateful for your intervention? How many enemies does society want to create? It's a bad idea to annoy someone who has nothing to lose.

Sorry if this sounds intemperate. I feel very strongly about the collateral damage done by the pious "war on drugs".

November 10, 2010 at 0:06 | Unregistered CommenterZaphod

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