HL Deb 19 December 1967 vol 287 cc1363-5

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, having regard to recent newspaper reports concerning the drug methedrine, they are intending to specify this drug in the Regulations about to be made under Section 1(i)(b) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967.]


My Lords, this is not possible under existing legislation. The only drugs which may be specified in the Regulations to be made under Section 1(1)(b) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967 are those specified in Part I of the Schedule of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965. This does not include the amphetamine group of drugs, such as methedrine. Methedrine is, however, one of the amphetamine group of drugs subject to control under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 and the Poisons Rules 1966. It may not be imported into the United Kingdom except under licence given by the Secretary of State or sold by retail except on a doctor's or dentist's prescription. Unauthorised possession is an offence.


My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied that he has the powers under the Acts which he has quoted to deal with the possibility that the "junky" doctors who are at the moment treating heroin addicts will not be able to switch them on to methedrine when the regulations under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967 are brought into effect? Will he be able to deal with this possibility?


My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, paragraph 12 of the Schedule to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 deals with narcotics. The drug with which he is concerned is not a narcotic and therefore cannot come under that Act. With regard to our interest in the matter, as your Lordships will be aware methedrine is an amphetamine; it has a limited therapeutic use as a treatment for depression, but it induces tolerance and, if taken as a habit, progressively larger doses are required to produce the same effects. Heavy dosage has been known to produce delusions of persecution and hallucinations, and misuse can lead to temporary mental illness requiring hospital treatment. Our difficulty is that prescribing a drug for addicts is entirely a medical matter within the judgment of individual doctors. What we are doing is to see that our inspectors under the Act are watching this matter very closely, and if the noble Lord has any information which would enable us to clarify the Press statements in this matter I shall be very glad to receive it.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Press statements have caused a good deal of concern, and that they appear to indicate that the provisions which we enacted during the summer may well be capable of being circumvented by the rather more disreputable elements in the medical profession, who are determined to circumvent them? Would he not agree, therefore, that it is probably very much better for the medical profession, as it would have been right at the beginning, to deal with this and kindred matters by seeking to discipline their own doctors?—because seems to me that whatever we do here they will find some way of getting round it.


My Lords, in any profession there is always a minority of practitioners who seek to circumvent the law. However much I might agree with the noble Lord in principle, in this case the question of discipline is a matter for the medical profession, and since, apparently, they were unable to agree to do what he suggests we have had to introduce legislation. At the moment the only law by which we can deal with methedrine is the 1964 Act, but this is a new menace about which we do not yet have enough information. We are seeking more information urgently, and when we know the extent of the problem we shall endeavour to deal with it.


My Lords, in cases where the nationals of another country import or deal or traffic habitually in these drugs, could there be some provision made in the Dangerous Drugs Act for their deportation for such habitual offences?


My Lords, there is no difficulty about that. The 1964 Act provides against such importation which would be entirely unauthorised, and provides penalties on summary conviction of a fine of up to £200 and/or imprisonment up to six months, and, for an indictable offence, of an unlimited tine and imprisonment up to two years. That is not our problem. Our problem is that some of it gets in, or even leaks out from home sources. Any possession is an offence, but we have to catch the people first. Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, suggested, there is the difficulty of this very tiny minority of practitioners who are seeking to circumvent, or indeed to anticipate, the 1967 Act which will be dealing with heroin and cocaine.