What you probably don’t know about heroin

409px-bayer_heroin_bottleBasically, it’s harmless.

Addictive yes, but worst side effect is constipation. (Visions of heroin addicts storming shops stocking senna and liquid paraffin.)

Black market heroin becomes poisonous and dangerous because unscrupulous dealers cut it with all kinds of pollutants. — Nick Davies

The available evidence indicates that heroin, when provided in pure form, is a relatively safe drug. Hence it is primarily the illegal nature of the drug, rather than its pharmacological properties, which leads to the health and social problems associated with its use. — Ostini, Bammer, Dance and Goodwin. 1993. ‘The Ethics of Experimental Heroin Maintenance’, Journal of Medical Ethics

In other words, we f**k up heroin addicts; the drug doesn’t.

In the late 1960s, there were a few hundred heroin addicts in the UK, mostly living in central London. They got their heroin not from dealers — but on prescription from psychiatrists.

Then, following an outburst of media hysteria and pressure from the US, the authorities forced the doctors to restrict the supply. A black market was created. Addicts began turning to crime. New supply chains to the East opened up. Thatcher completed the disaster, shutting down legal heroin altogether in favour of methadone. Twenty years after the clampdown had begun, that stable population of a few hundred users had expanded to 300,000 criminals and basket cases, linked to around 70% of all break-ins, shoplifting and robberies in the UK.

[This is a precis from chapter one of Nick Davies’ book, Flat Earth News (find it on Amazon UK or Kalahari.net), and you can read more about the heroin story on his blog.]

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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3 Responses to What you probably don’t know about heroin

  1. veredd says:

    I don’t know. Isn’t addiction in itself dangerous? How did the 60s addicts became addicted in the first place? Were they able to pay for their prescription? Too much info is missing here.

    • David says:

      Addiction is certainly undesirable, but people pass entire lifetimes while addicted to, say, nicotine or coffee or marijuana, sometimes even without necessarily dire personal or social consequences. Many people are addicted to alcohol in ways that remain manageable, but might well be far more destructive were alcohol illegal.

      The 1960s addicts very often had been prescribed heroin medically; war veterans, for example, who used it as a powerful painkiller — it’s a semi-synthetic form of morphine. It was even used as a cough suppressant (!!) 100 years ago.

      Like many drugs, it has legitimate medical uses, as well as ‘recreational’ ones.

      The 1960s addicts didn’t need to pay for their prescriptions because the UK has long had a free national health service, the NHS; everyone gets whatever medical treatment they need without having to pay for it, as in many European countries.

    • frank says:

      not everyone gets addicted, a minority get addicted! Would addicts be able to afford to pay for their addictions with legally earned money? YES, if drugs were legal the price would be dirt cheap. A kilo of highly addictive refined sugar costs £1.79. A kilo of highly addictive refined cocaine costs £50000.

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