DRUGS: WHAT THE ENGLISH CAN TEACH US
DRUGS: WHAT THE ENGLISH CAN TEACH US
Source: NY Newsday April 11, 1988
[Pat O'Hare is drug coordiator for the Sefton Education Authority. Allan
Parry is drugs and AIDS coordinator for the Mersey Regional Health Authority,
both in Liverpool England. Newsday Reporter Patricia Cohen interviewed them
for this article.]
Newday: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF NEW YORK CITY'S PROPOSED CLEAN NEEDLE PROGRAM AS
A WAY OF CONTAINING AIDS ?
O'HARE: It's not going to work.
PARRY: There's a number of things tht have to happen before drug users will
come in to use the program. One of them is there has to be a miniumum
amount of hoops to jump through. As they get paraniod. From what
we've heard about the proposed New York one, it's not ideal. It is a
very limited program, which in the final analysis is better than
A lot of people think we make claims that our scheme is stopping
the spread of HIV. All we claim is that 2,000 injectors have been
tested and there's no seropositivity. That we've found a way of
attracting large numbers of drug users into the program and they
regularly return equipment.
It's different in NY. In Liverpool, the police support us, the
church supports us, everybody supports us: the media pomotes it. Here
you don't have those things.
Newday: HOW DOES YOUR PROGRAM WORK ?
PARRY: People come in off the streets and ask for syringes, and what we ask
for is evidence that they've been injecting, and they'll show us the
track marks. And then we'll lend them 5 syringes.
We don't attempt to do any counseling, any treatment the first time
unless they ask for it because we don't want to frighten people away.
And because their initial experience is positive, they go tell their
friends. We've seen 900 in Liverpool since October, 1986. It cost us
$50,000. If you work out the cost of keeping someone in detoxifi-
cation, a methadone program or a hospital, it's a very cheap service.
Newday: YOU SAY THE POLICE COOPERATE WITH YOU. HERE THE LAW ENFORCMENT
COMMUNITY IS DEAD SET AGAINST THE NEEDLE EXPERIMENT.
PARRY: Police are the key agency. Lets say a syrigne scheme opens up, and a
police car parks outside. No one would go in. The police can stop it
without even arresting someone.
O'HARE: You can see the problem when there was a policeman shot sitting in his
care. You can see that the average man on the beat is not going to be
too pleased. He might feel that he is backing off people who shot his
PARRY: We're not saying we've got the answer and New York should do it. There
are a million differences But the differences are in the culture of
the people who don't use drugs.
Newday: ARE YOU SAYING THAT ALL THE EFFORT THAT WENT INTO GETTING THE NYC
PROGRAM IN PLACE IS REALLY A WASTE?
PARRY: I thought it was a waste when I heard the caveats being put on it.
[But] you've got to try something.
Newday: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE JOB NEW YORK CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER STEPHEN
JOSEPH IS DOING?
PARRY: Because of our National Health Service, there are no politicians
directly involved in the implementation of health service. It's really
weird listening to someone who's got political considerations first
and foremost in the planning of health policy. In our region, when we
decide an urgent issue, we don't have to consult politicians, we just
Newday: SOME HEALTH OFFICIALS BELIVE AIDS MAY BE THE ENGINE FOR THE
ESTABLISHMENT OF NATIONALIZED HEALTH CARE IN THIS COUNTRY.
PARRY: That's wishfull thinking by ... the left. People have been saying
"Why have you been able to do all these things in England?" Its
because our Tory ministers came to America. Norman Fowler, the
[social services] minister, two weeks after being back said we're
going to fund giving syringes to users because what he saw was so
obscene as far as the attitudees are concerned. Secondly, as a good
Tory minister tyring to manage social service and health care, he
doesn't want to have to fund hospital beds for thousands of people
O'HARE: I came here to learn, and I have to say I have learned very little.
[I've seen your] public service announcements on drugs. They just lie
about drugs. We've heard some absolutely outrageous things about
PARRY: There's almost a sense [here] that drugs are so bad that even if you
have to lie to people to prevent it, that's OK. And I would accept
that if people stopped. But that doesn't work. I feel sorry for
people doing research on this issue. [They] actually believe taht
research determines policy; you produce the results, eople read them
and then do something. The research say [teaching kids to abstain]
is crap, but the governemnt says "Never mind your research, just say
Newday: YOUR APPROACH TO DRUGS SOUNDS RADICALLY DIFFERENT FROM THAT OF MOST
O'HARE: You [assume] that drug addiction is a disease, that people who fall to
this didease are deficient psychologically, they have a "dependent
personality." It allows you to look at them as imbeciles that you
can do things to. It's a convenient way to forget the social,
economic and political factors.
Newday: IS THE LEGALIZATION OF DRUGS THE ANSWER?
PARRY: There's two things I don't agree with: one is prohibition, the other
is free availability. America has the biggest expenditure on
prohibition, and it's got the biggest drug problem. All prohibition
does is remove the inefficient dealers from society, allowing the
efficient ones to control the market.
O'HARE: It's classic capitalism. America go involved in a war in Vietnam and
after a few years realized they were not going to get anywhere. But
it just seems to be carrying on with this war on drugs, and they're
getting absolutely nowhere.
PARRY: That's not to say we don't have a big drug problem. But it's dealt
with more rationally. Here you've got mass hysteria. The perfect
medium for hysteria is the media. It sells newspapers. The media is
Newday: ISNT THERE TENSION BETWEEN INFORMING THE PUBLIC ABOUT AIDS AND SPARKING
PARRY: You can still sell newspapers [and] inform at the same time. The media
have got to realize that they have a role to play in the prevention of
HIV. Here the one and only rule seems to be "sell newspapers."
Newday: DO MOST ADDICTS WANT TO GO INTO TREATMENT ?
PARRY: [In Liverpool] we don't call it treatment. We call it free drugs. We
give people drugs as a way of giving them a chance to make a choice
about their lifestyle. When there's no employment, people don't get
depressed and hang themselves. They create an alternative lifestyle.
It's ..... robbing, it's ... dealing, it's buying drugs. It's getting
stoned -- it fills the 24 hours. That's what they're strung out on;
the drug is almost irrelevent. This program interviewed guys from
Harlem, and what they were into was the lifestyle. "Taking care of
business" they call it. It's a job. because there's no employment,
there's no incentives, they don't have anything.
O'HARE: In some ways its easy for them to stop. It's getting them to stay
stopped that's the problem. What will they fill the void with ? You
can't say get off the street and we'll give you a job. The norm for
youth unemployment in Liverpool is 30 percent. In some places its
about 90 percent.
PARRY: You've got people now trying to pretend that they're realy worried
about drug use in the minority groups here. I went to the Bronx.
Beirut doesn't look like that. Politicians are saying: "We're
concerned about about drug use spreading in those communities" What
communities? The place is decimated. It's scandalous.
O'HARE: I've notice in the whole debate about AIDS and the war on drugs that
there is very little discussion about the social, economic conditons
in which this activity takes place. Nothing about structural factors.
Newday: IS THE WAR ON DRUGS DANGEROUS?
PARRY: It is really like a new McCarthyism -- "If you're not for the war on
drugs, you're traitors."
O'HARE: In a war you can accept victims and you've got an enemy. For some
people, that's an effective way of viewing it.
PARRY: In the war against drugs, you don't lock heroin up in prison. It's a
war on people, so it's a civil war in your own community. If you make
drugs illegal, you have to accept certain consequences: that criminals
will get involved, that policemen will be shot, that drug users will
die of all kinds of infections, that AIDS will wipe them out. They're
casualties of war.