HC Deb 05 December 1996 vol 286 cc1187-8
3. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what new proposals he has to reduce illegal drug use in prison. [6150]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Tom Sackville)

We are rapidly increasing the number of drug treatment programmes in prisons. We have introduced mandatory drug testing in every prison and are continuing to develop a battery of other measures to control the supply of drugs into prisons.

Mr. Flynn

Will the Minister, uniquely, listen to the question that I am about to ask and give me an answer based on the question, not on something that he prepared earlier?

Many of the commendable programmes that the Government are using to reduce the use of illegal drugs in prison depend on moving prisoners from the use of illegal drugs to the use of medicinal drugs. The Minister knows the damage caused by medicinal drugs. Ten times as many people are addicted to medicinal drugs than to illegal drugs, and more people die from methadone use than from heroin use. His Department refuses to give any figures on the use of medicinal drugs in prison. Is it not possible that people are being moved from an illegal non-addictive drug to a legal, addictive medicinal drug?

Will the Minister undertake to inquire into the use of medicinal drugs in prison and report to the House?

Mr. Sackville

There are 59 different drug programmes in prisons. They vary from those that use methadone right through to total abstinence programmes, such as the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust—RAPt—programmes, in Coldingley, Downview, Pentonville and Wandsworth, which use no medicinal drugs following detoxification. We are piloting various drug treatment programmes. The hon. Gentleman may have a preference for those that do not use substitutes, but we have to use all the treatments that exist in getting people off drugs, because there is no single answer to that problem.

Mr. Rathbone

Does my hon. Friend accept that, whatever admirable efforts are made to reduce the use of drugs in prisons, it is equally important to provide support services for prisoners who have given up drugs during their time in prison and have returned to the normal world outside? Will he encourage such steps?

Mr. Sackville

I agree with my hon. Friend. Programmes such as Phoenix house provide halfway houses, treatment and support for people coming out of prison. It is no use people succeeding in a drug-free wing, if they then go back to their communities and take drugs. My hon. Friend's point is well taken.

Mr. George Howarth

Will the Minister acknowledge that a mandatory drug test can detect cannabis after up to 28 days, whereas heroin and cocaine are held in the bloodstream for two to four days? There is a perverse incentive for people to take the latter drugs. Can he confirm that, between March and September, the number of positive tests for opiates increased by 27 per cent., which amounts to 3,500 people? Does he agree that we need more initiatives in the Prison Service, such as the one at Downview, to deal with these serious problems?

Mr. Sackville

I have been told that we should be conducting hair tests rather than urine tests for that reason. The best medical advice is that it is 10 days for cannabis and five days for opiates, but our figures do not show a switch from cannabis to opiates.