Neil Woods: In the UK 50,000 children are dealing heroin, per the UK government website. This information is now removed now from the website due likely to embarrassment. I first bought heroin from a child in 2001 as undercover cop. Now it is the norm, before it was shocking – you are now more likely to buy heroin from a child than an adult. Why have we gotten to a situation where children are frontline heroin dealers? That is my fault as a former undercover police officer. Organized crime adapts and drug prohibition gave birth to this. Drug policing sharpens the sword of organized crime. Looking around Europe there is a direct correlation between punitive action and these trends. The British system is important as it was the last European system resistant to war on drugs. If you developed a problem with drugs you went to a doctor and what that meant for heroin and cocaine you were given safe supply by the doctor. We can see here very quickly what has happened in much shorter space of time once this system ended. At end of this system there was 1,046 heroin users and this was falling – 15 years later there was over 300,000. This created an epidemic as they rapidly caught up with other countries who had hard prohibition. When I was talking with a child dealing heroin, he said it would take him just a few hours to access a gun, and that the last time he needed a gun he was instead offered a hand grenade which he took home and put in his sock drawer at home, this was over a territorial dispute in drug dealing and he fully expected to need to use it. In three generations the control of heroin dealing has gone from doctors to 15 year old with hand grenades. In 1920s and 1930s there were apparently 100,000s heroin users in New York alone while in UK this was in the 100s. Use of police informants makes the market more ruthless and violent as police very actively seek informants for drug dealing specifically, only the most ruthless don’t get grassed on. In Sweden and UK you see massive violence and child dealing – but there are no children dealing heroin in Switzerland. Switzerland, Netherlands no longer have heroin problem due to use of prescription heroin access. If you want to save lives and protect children we need to learn from these systems, this should if nothing else be a child protection issue.
Italian Speaker: I used to be a GP in the community and I started to be aware of the drug scene in Padoa where I qualified as a doctor. I had a dozen heroin patients there and in Venice I came across widespread heroin use. In the 90s in Venice we couldn’t even distribute methadone and heroin was everywhere. This was caused, in part, by Yugoslavian Civil War and the environment flooded with heroin. Italian doctors did not know how to deal with heroin use, let alone teenagers using drugs, 15 and 16 year olds were coming with massive dependency on heroin. England’s GPs could prescribe methadone but Italian’s couldn’t. I needed to pioneer the use of buprenorphine instead of methadone in Venice – I didn’t care about official policy but felt it was my duty to do this. Because Venice is a tourist city none of the media wanted to cover this issue. I ended up with 40,000-50,000 drug users wanting to access this buprenorphine. Police saw that there was an 80% drop in related issues for the police. There was a large HIV scare at this time, lots of stigma as a result of how people see the problem. Eventually health authorities closed my practice and with support of others I set up an organization offering medical support for people who use opioids. At this time there were people with jobs and kids bankrupted by heroin use. The mayor of a local town said what I was doing is good, but please don’t do it in my town. We put his town hall under siege from all drug users of the region. I was also able to provide rehab, housing etc and this was really not agreed with the political authority, there was some support from Green party and “radical party” but this was not common, many politicians were very corrupted by the mafia. By Italian law if you’re caught by the police all assets are seized by the state, in theory, however, many mafioso were let away with this as they were covered by secret service. North East Mafia’s illgotten assets managed to fund the touristic businesses in Venice. People often wondered why I was doing this work, I then moved to England, worked in the UK for 20 years and my knowledge expanded also into stimulant abuse, problematic alcohol use – in Venice there is alcohol friendly culture. In Venice it is not seen as a medical problem. Only a doctor can know if this is a problem. Whatever job you do you end up relating to drug users in different ways, it challenges your human sensibilities. London was flooded with Italian addicts at the time running for their lives from Italy and burdening all of the social services in England, exporting their problems and contributing to xenophobic feelings – Brexit vote wasn’t helped by these Italian addicts. This work in my life has been appreciated and I have received awards. My years in England have shown me the tail end of the British system and in the 90s I promoted progress in Essex, sessions with patients that were witnessed by police officers to show them this is a medical problem. Highgate in London allowed prescription of medication to drug users through probation office which was a fantastic success. Movements in the 1960s in America was result of marijuana criminalization. Health official was sacked for saying that alcohol is doing much more damage than heroin.
Moderator: Side-event about cannabis and mortality attracted large numbers of prohibitionist doctors etc. They drew link between getting AIDS and cannabis, same psychiatrist is also now quoted about cannabis and psychosis, however in NL there is no spike between mental illness and cannabis.
Italian Doctor: Some psychedelic drugs can trigger predisposed psychosis, but this doesn’t mean if you do marijuana you will get psychosis. There is too much generalization by politicians that doesn’t account for individual differences and we should defend the right to be different. A student smoking spliff all day won’t pass the exam but this doesn’t make it bad.
Moderator: Marijuana is very common but we can’t discuss this.
Question: What do the police do with the children who are arrested for dealing?
Neil Woods: They are criminalized but there is now a political discussion to change this, they should be viewed as victims instead. In the UK you can criminalize children, once older than the age of 10. Shorter sentences makes them very useful to organized crime as they are released very quickly.