UK Government Announces Review of Medical Cannabis

The home secretary has announced a government review into the potential use of cannabis as a medical treatment.

Sajid Javid states that the government’s current position on cannabis is “not satisfactory,” while stating that the cases of people such as Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley had played a role in the decision to review the potential use of medical cannabis in the UK.

Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, both young boys with epilepsy, have become important figures in the effort to legalise medical cannabis, with the home secretary noting that high-profile cases involving the potential medical benefits of cannabis had influenced his decision.

Charlotte Caldwell, Billy’s mother, expressed positivity about the decision. Caldwell is one of the country’s highest-profile campaigners for medical cannabis legalisation, as well as the founder of a cannabis oil company dedicated to funding her son’s medical care.

Speaking after the review was announced, Charlotte Caldwell noted that “common sense and the power of mummies of sick children” had prompted the decision, and that the UK was on the verge of “changing thousands of lives” through the potential legalisation of medical cannabis.

Caldwell and Dingley both have intractable epilepsy — a form of epilepsy that can’t be effectively treated using conventional medication. Both boys have shown improvements through the use of cannabis oil.

Currently, cannabis is classified as a schedule 1 drug — a classification that means it is viewed as having “no therapeutic value.” The drug cannot legally be possessed in the UK, with a range of legal penalties for its cultivation, sale and possession.

Proponents of medical cannabis claim that the UK has lagged behind other countries, such as the United States, which have taken steps to legalise cannabis as a medical treatment.

Canada also recently became the first major economy to legalise cannabis as a recreational drug as part of a campaign promise by Prime Minister Trudeau. Recreational cannabis is also allowed in several US states, including California.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Javid stated that the UK’s current medical cannabis policy was not only not satisfactory to the government, but that it was also not satisfactory for parents of children with epilepsy, their doctors or him personally.

The home secretary also clarified that the review was “in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use,” noting that the review would not set a precedent or weaken the government’s ability to combat illegal drug use.

The movement for cannabis legalisation has gained a significant amount of attention over the past few years as an increasing number of people in the UK make use of CBD oil — a medicine developed using cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in cannabis.

Widely used to reduce pain and inflammation, CBD oil shares many of its potential benefits with medicinal cannabis. Usage has grown rapidly in the UK over the last two years, from less than 100,000 users in 2016 to upwards of 300,000 in June of 2018.

As part of the review, the government will analyse and consider evidence covering the potential medical benefits of cannabis-based medicines. The second segment of the review will produce an assessment of cannabis’s potential public health benefits and harms.

While the government has stressed that the review is not a move towards legalising recreational cannabis (it announced it has “no intention of reviewing the classification of cannabis”) the move towards further study of medical cannabis has been welcomed by campaigners.

MP Claims UK “Drugs Market of Europe”

Tottenham MP David Lammy has claimed that the UK is the “drugs market of Europe” and that an increase in the trade in illegal drugs is responsible for an increase in levels of violent crime around the country.

Lammy’s claims have started a conversation in the UK about drug use, as well as the scale of the illegal drug trade and the problem of drug addiction in Britain.

According to the Home Office, the illegal drug industry in Britain generates as much as £5.3bn annually. Similar figures from the Office for National Statistics estimate that illegal drug revenue is approximately £4.4 billion every year.

However, figures from the National Crime Agency put the value of the illegal drug market even higher, estimating that black market drug sales in the UK generate as much as £10.7 billion in illegal revenue on an annual basis.

One reason for the discrepancy in figures in the way in which the “value” of the illicit drug trade is calculated. Whie the Home Office and ONS only estimate income from sales of illegal drugs, the National Crime Agency also accounts for the costs of drug use to the general public.

These costs include expenses involved in law enforcement and criminal justice, as well as the immense costs to the NHS caused by the use of illegal drugs. The National Crime Agency also takes into account the cost of crimes, such as thefts, committed by users of illegal drugs.

Even the most conservative estimates of the scale of Britain’s drug trade highlight how large the problem is, as well as the cost it has on society.

According to survey data, almost 10 per cent of British adults admit that they’ve used an illegal drug in the last 12 months. Interestingly, this is slightly lower than the percentage recorded via previous surveys, such as a similar confidential survey carried out 10 years ago.

Despite this, many experts believe that today’s illegal drug market is more dangerous than ever before due to the increase in sales of illicit opioids, which are far more likely to lead to addiction than many of the widely used recreational drugs.

Opioids, which include medications such as morphine and heroin, are also more likely to result in death or serious bodily harm in the event of an overdose than more widely used recreational drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy.

An increase in the use of heroin is particularly worrying. Many of the UK’s seaside resort towns top the list of overdose deaths from opioids such as morphine and heroin, with the death rate of Blackpool twice as high as any other city in England and Wales.

Other coastal towns have significant heroin problems, with 10 of the 14 UK communities most affected by heroin located along the coast. In these towns, the rate of opiate deaths is 4.5 per 100,000 people; nationally, it’s just 1.7 in England and 2.3 in Wales.

While MP David Lammy’s claim that the UK is the “drugs market of Europe” may or may not be accurate, the UK certainly has a problem of drug addiction — one that’s becoming increasingly problematic in certain parts of the nation.

Doctors Warn NHS is “Creating Drug Addicts”

An increase in the number of people prescribed opioid painkillers in the UK has resulted in drug counsellors and doctors warning that the policies of the NHS could result in a higher number of people becoming addicted to drugs.

In a recent BBC investigation, reporters discovered that almost 24 million opioid tablets, ranging from tramadol to morphine and fentanyl, were prescribed in the UK last year. The number is an increase of almost 90% from 2007, just one decade ago.

Opioid painkillers can be highly addictive. The drugs are often prescribed for recurring injuries or after surgery as part of legitimate pain management treatment, but users can quickly develop an addiction to the drugs even at the prescribed dosage.

Prescription rates for opioid medicines are highest in industrial areas of the country, with areas in northern England topping the list. Many regions in the north have opioid prescribing rates as much as four times higher than London, according to ONS data.

Workplace injuries that cause back, neck, wrist pain and other common injuries are often all it takes for a patient to be prescribed powerful opioid medication.

According to Nicki Hari, a drug counsellor for UK Addiction Treatment, many doctors prescribe medications such as tramadol “without asking too many questions.” Hari claims that the loose prescription habits are “creating drug addicts” and worsening the problem of drug addiction.

Hari has extensive personal experience with opioid painkiller. As a 25 year old, she became addicted to prescription medicine and “manipulated” doctors into prescribing her the drugs to maintain her addiction, often requesting unnecessary surgery to be prescribed medication.

Her claims of overprescription have, to some extent, been supported by professionals in the medical industry.

Professor Jonathan Chick, of rehabilitation clinic Castle Craig Hospital, claims that the total number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction has roughly doubled in the last five years, and that there’s “definitely a link” between rising prescriptions and addiction levels.

Doctors have also acknowledged the scale of the problem. Dr Luke Mordecai of University College London Hospitals notes that opioid painkiller addiction often affects areas with low incomes more than prosperous areas.

Mordecai noted that doctors often face significant pressure from patients to prescribe certain drugs, noting that “patients demand they get given these strong painkillers” by their doctors.

The government has also taken notice. In January, a review into the level of prescriptions for opioid painkillers was launched by Public Health England. The report is due to be released in early 2019 and could prompt a review of policy towards drug prescription and addiction.

In the meantime, prescription painkiller abuse remains one of the biggest health issues in the UK. From 2016 to 2017, an estimated 2.3 million people aged 16 to 59 used prescription pain medication without a prescription, according to a survey by the BBC England data unit.

While many users of prescription pain medication cease using the medicine when required, a large percentage struggle with dependence and addiction. When prescriptions end, users are often drawn towards the black market, where more dangerous illicit drugs can be purchased.

US Opioid Addiction Epidemic “Costs $500 Billion Per Year”

The American opioid epidemic, which President Trump declared a public emergency last year, costs the United States more than $500 billion per year, according to data released by the The Council of Economic Advisers.

The agency, which is part of the Executive Office of the President, believes that $504 billion is lost through a combination of factors related to opioid abuse, ranging from overdose deaths to health care bills, lost productivity and spending on law enforcement and criminal justice.

An estimated 50,000 Americans died due to drug overdoses in 2015, the most recent year for which complete data is available. More than 60% of these deaths involved opioids, making the class of medication that most deadly in the country.

Opioid addiction has developed from a minor problem into a major crisis over the past decade, with overdose deaths, emergency room visits and other negative events increasing at a rapid pace.

In 2017, more than 45,000 people in the United States received emergency room treatment for opioid-related health problems. An estimated two million American adults are considered opioid dependent, according to the current addiction criteria.

The rate of opioid-related deaths is more than four times as high as in 1999, less than 20 years ago.

Opioid addiction affects a diverse range of people throughout the United States. However, the addiction crisis has hit certain areas harder than others, with industrial areas the most likely to be affected.

Addiction rates are highest in states such as Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania — states with large amounts of heavy industry and higher rates of workplace injuries than coastal regions.

Many people dealing with opioid addiction are prescribed opioid painkillers due to a workplace injury or surgery. Prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin are widely prescribed, often for injuries that can potentially be treated using less addictive alternative medications.

Data shows that many people become addicted to opioids after being prescribed the drugs at a therapeutic dose following surgery or recurring pain. Others switch from prescription opioids to street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl due to their lower cost and widespread availability.

In the case of fentanyl, efforts by addicts to save money can be deadly. The drug, which is a synthetic opiate painkiller designed for use in combination with other drugs as an anesthetic, delivers an effect that’s more than 50 times as powerful as morphine.

Black market opioid dealers often falsely sell fentanyl as heroin or morphine in an effort to cut costs and generate more profit from illegal drug sales. Even a slight overdose of the drug can result in death, making this practice extremely hazardous and harmful.

Fentanyl is also often disguised as prescription medications such as oxycodone. Recently, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that three men had been arrested in California for selling the illicit and dangerous painkiller in the form of counterfeit oxycodone tablets.

It’s a widespread problem, and one with no clear end in sight. Despite massive efforts by law enforcement, government and private addiction centres, the opioid crisis remains a massive, increasingly significant problem for millions of people across North America.

Rachel ‘killed by jilted lover’

RACHEL WHITEAR, the 21-year-old student whose corpse was shown in a government anti-drug campaign, was killed by her jilted boyfriend, according to court documents.

Luke Fitzgerald is alleged to have administered a fatal dose of heroin and then attempted to “clean up the scene”, say documents submitted to the High Court in London.

Detectives reinvestigating her death have obtained statements from witnesses saying that Fitzgerald, a heroin addict, had been with Whitear when she died in a Devon bedsit. One witness said Fitzgerald had “confessed” to fatally injecting Whitear, who was previously assumed to have accidentally overdosed herself.

The High Court ruled this month that a fresh inquest into Whitear’s death must be heard, probably next year. The judges were told that the evidence is of “such significance” that it should be put before a coroner’s court.

The court documents also claim that officials connected with the first inquest, held seven months after her death in May 2000, failed to investigate it properly because they did not want to devote the necessary money and time, and were wary of the possible HIV risk attached to her body. The evidence suggests that, as an apparently drug-related fatality, Whitear was treated as a “second-class citizen” by the officials.

Whitear, a university student who became hooked on heroin after meeting Fitzgerald as a teenager, had split with him the day before her death, moving out of their shared flat in Exmouth and into a bedsit in the town.

She was found there three days later, her discoloured body in a crouching position on the floor clutching a syringe with the stopper inexplicably replaced on the end of the needle.

An inquest, however, was unable to give a cause of death and recorded an open verdict.

Toxicology tests showed that her blood contained a level of heroin too low to have been fatal and the coroner Richard Van Oppen reportedly said he was “certain” she had not died of an overdose.

Whitear’s mother and stepfather, Pauline and Michael Holcroft, nevertheless agreed to allow their daughter’s life story, and the shocking last image of her, to be made into a government-backed video to warn schoolchildren of the dangers of drug use.

Only when the coroner’s verdict was highlighted in the media in 2003, together with details showing that Fitzgerald had lied to police about his contact with her the day she died, were Wiltshire police ordered to reinvestigate the case by the Independent Police Complaints Authority.

Fitzgerald, 31, who has a conviction for assault, had initially told Devon and Cornwall police in 2000 that he had last seen Whitear the day before she died, when the couple argued on the beach about money he claimed she owed. Only when police interviewed Fitzgerald a second time, after the inconclusive toxicology tests, did he admit getting money from her on the morning she died. He insisted, however, that he had never been to her new address.

Three months into the 2003 reinvestigation Fitzgerald was arrested by Wiltshire detectives on suspicion of Whitear’s manslaughter, but was later released. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ruled there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against anyone in connection with the death. However, the court documents containing evidence compiled by Chief Superintendent Paul Howlett of Wiltshire police, and submitted to the High Court this month in a successful attempt to force a new inquest, show that the reinvestigation obtained significant evidence suggesting that Fitzgerald was indeed present when his former girlfriend died.

The court submission states that among the new evidence is “the existence of a witness who had a conversation with Rachel’s boyfriend in which he confessed to having injected Rachel and thereafter returned to her house to clean up the scene”. It adds that there is also “the existence of another witness who had spoken to Rachel’s boyfriend and as a result had formed the view that he was present when Rachel died”.

The police obtained statements from two people who said that Whitear’s landlord, Darren Tynan, had told them that he had heard someone “leave the house during the period relevant to Rachel’s death”. Tynan denied having said this when questioned by the police, although he did state that a packet of tobacco had gone missing on the afternoon she died.