Tragic Battle Against Drugs
BY the gravestone of her drug-addicted son Chris, bereaved mum Suzanne Dyer places flowers as she tearfully reveals what she tells him when she visits. In this heart-rending scene from the first episode of Angus Macqueen's controversial new Channel 4 documentary series Our War On Drugs, Suzanne says: "I say that I love him and I'll see him some time soon. We miss him so much... and I'm sorry he suffered so much."
Her son's plight is highlighted by film-maker Macqueen in his quest to make drugs legal, regulated and available over the counter.
Ironically, Chris didn't die from heroin or an illegal drug. He died as a result of addiction to GBL (Gamma Butyrolactone), a compound found in industrial cleaners and widely used by clubbers. The 24-year-old from Peebles in the Borders was prescribed sleeping pills while trying to come off it and sleepwalked through an open window, ending up a paraplegic.
After rehab, he relapsed. Two years of fighting his addiction coupled with depression at being in a wheelchair ended when Chris suffered a fatal, GBL-induced seizure. Chris had got hooked on GBL after a milder form of the stimulant, GHB, was banned. Users moved on to a more toxic alternative, available legally as an alloy wheel cleaner.
Heroin, on the other hand, remains highly illegal as well as highly addictive, but Macqueen's film argues the case for turning existing drug laws on their head, claiming that the war on drugs is actually doing more harm now than the drugs themselves. With Scotland named by the UN as the drugs capital of Europe, Edinburgh's schemes are as good a place as any for Macqueen to start.
Touring the estates with former drug user turned drugs charity volunteer
Gwen Fletcher, Macqueen is shocked to hear of pockets of deprivation where Gwen puts the proportion of addicted occupants at 60 to 70 per cent. Other statistics quoted in the film show that efforts to close down the supply of class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine are doomed to fail.
Professor Neil McKeganey, of Glasgow University's Centre for Drug Misuse Research, says that recent research taking in a six-year period of drug seizures suggests that only about one per cent of heroin smuggled into Scotland is actually seized. "This is a staggeringly small proportion and probably is the strongest indicator you're ever going to get of our current failures," said Professor McKeganey.
When the police do go on a raid, Macqueen says it's mostly a gesture to show the locals that "something is being done" about drugs. "It feels to me as if it's just symbolic," said the 50-year-old, whose father was from Campbeltown. And he feels that even if a dealer is arrested and taken out of circulation, profits are so huge that another instantly takes his place.
Macqueen also argues that legalising drugs such as ecstasy would take the cash out of criminals' pockets and replace adulterated products with safer, purer ones. And he says banning so-called "legal highs" simply moves punters on to other untried substances.
He said: "The average consumer doesn't want to be doing something illegal. But what they're now doing is taking powders which have never been tested on anybody. "Most of them - 98 per cent - are wise enough to know that heroin is dangerous and not to get too close to it. But they know ecstasy mostly won't kill you, yet it's a class A drug, like heroin. We send such confused messages. "We've got to strip away the moralising around drugs and go for a simpler system where people could get drugs from a chemists. "You would know what's inside them and they wouldn't be mixed with other things. And you would have a pricing policy that would allow Government to tax them as required but wouldn't encourage a huge black market.
"Nothing will solve all the problems of drugs. Drugs are dangerous - we've got that in the film, that people die from taking drugs. It's hard-hearted to say but people die from a lot of things. We have to weigh up the social benefits of change and regulation compared to individual tragedy."
Macqueen's view is also supported by Professor David Nutt, whose outspoken opinions got him sacked as a Home Officer drugs adviser.
Professor Nutt said: "There's definitely a moral element that has crept in. If it was simply about health, we would have a very different Misuse of Drugs Act. Alcohol would be in it and tobacco would be in it. If it wasn't moral, it would look quite different."