February 6th 2022

Back to the future – drug strategies and deja vue (PDF)

DrugWise hasn’t ‘spoken’ for some while because to be honest, there hasn’t been that much to speak about regarding UK drug policy. Now we have the Dame Carol Black review and the government’s response. This is not a detailed resume of the contents of either as I’m sure many of those reading this will be well acquainted with both documents. This is more by way of some personal top line observations.


October 16th 2018

The smoke and mirrors of vaping

A new report about the tobacco harm reduction potential of safer nicotine products (SNP) such as e-cigarettes tries to clear the air of lies, propaganda and misinformation confusing smokers and politicians alike. Read more…


January 19th 2018

No REST for the vulnerable

The threatened closure of London’s only specialist support service for those battling tranquiliser dependency underlines the parlous state of UK healthcare for this patient group. Read more…


December 4th 2017

Spice zombies and the return of the drug fiend

The current fashion for linking spice users to supernatural horrors is the latest chapter in the stigmatisation of high risk drug users. Read more…


November 22nd 2017

Guerilla public health; the early days of UK harm reduction

The DrugScope library has been transferred to the Wellcome Institute where it is being catalogued and partly digitised for general access. This article launches this very welcome development – pun intended. Read more (external link)…


May 23rd 2017

Mortality matters – but how much does it matter?

The unwelcome arrival of fentanyl onto the UK heroin market made this important Addaction conference even more timely. But hand-wringing is not enough. What needs to be done? Read more…


April 12th 2017

Drug law reform and the three card trick…

This year Addaction celebrates its 50th anniversary and to commemorate the event, they are holding a series of lectures, of which this, given by Professor David Nutt on why we should decriminalise personal possession of all drugs, is the first. Read more…


October 12th 2016

When one door closes…..

The Psychoactive Substances Act shut down many head shops and other retail outlets selling NPS. But the problem of Spice-type synthetic cannabinoids seems to be growing among the nation’s homeless and other vulnerable groups. Should the door now open on drug consumption rooms? Read more…

August 8th 2016


Thanks to new Direct-Acting Antiviral treatment (DAA), hepatitis c could be dead and buried. But before that day arrives, NHS rationing threatens a death sentence for thousands of patients. A mixture of anger and optimism at the Addaction World Hepatitis Day conference 28th July. Read more…

July 13th 2016

The ENDS justifies the ends

You would think that a product with the potential to save a billion tobacco-related deaths this century without costing tax-payers a penny would be universally welcomed by governments and the global public health community. You’d be wrong. Startling revelations from this years’ Global Nicotine Forum Conference in Warsaw. Read more…

July 7th 2016

A rogue by any other name

By Harry Shapiro

What do the following have in common? Green apple and rolex; red dragon; yellow grenade; superman; teddy bears and blue ninja turtles. Following well-publicised incidents over the past two years, they have all been dubbed ‘rogue’ ecstasy. Read more…


May 17th 2016

The depressing truth about antidepressants

By Harry Shapiro

The brain has a whole fleet of chemical couriers called neurotransmitters (NTs) which it uses to send messages to different parts of the body. They are released across a synaptic gap to engage with receptors on the other side as a key fits a lock. The brain then reabsorbs the chemical waiting for the next event to occur that will stimulate release.  About 100 NTs have so far been identified: one of these is serotonin. It has a number of functions, but one is to regulate mood and increase good feelings. Read more…


May 2nd 2016

UNGASS 2016 – The consensus holds, but only under protest

“The drug problem and its related evils transcend borders and affect citizens worldwide. Hence international cooperation towards an integrated and balanced strategy is required in order to counter them”, said Archbishop Bernadido Auza of the Holy See when addressing the UN General Assembly on Thursday, 21 of April.

The need for International cooperation underpins the international drug control regime and lies at the foundation of the three international treaties that govern the global (mis-) management of illicit drugs. Most national delegates invoked the need for a joint approach to fighting the “global drug problem” and re-affirmed the centrality of the treaties and the organisational mechanisms like the Commission of Narcotic Drugs (the United Nations commission responsible for drugs) and the International Narcotics Control Board (the administrative body regulating implementation). This unity of purpose is also suggested by the outcome document “Our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem” that was accepted by the General Assembly. Read more…


April 5th 2016

Follow the money

The dominant narrative of the drugs war divides the conflict quite simply into ‘good guys and bad guys’ – murderous drug cartels on the one hand: police, customs and drug enforcement officers on the other. But there is a third actor here, an eminence grise without whose collaboration and collusion, the power of international drug trafficking and organised crime in general would be much diminished – the world banking system.

moneyThe role of financial institutions in either actively engaging in money-laundering or at least turning a blind eye and failing to have the systems in place to stop it, is well documented. One of the most spectacular single examples was the collapse of the Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI) in 1991 with debts of £10bn amid allegations of fraud and money-laundering. The bank had lost money hand-over-fist from its lending operations, its foreign currency dealings, and its deposit accounts. It was also the bank of choice for money-launderers and terrorists. Drug money from Colombia and Panama and funding for the Mujahideen in Pakistan flowed through it coffers. So the recent revelations about alleged financial irregularities emanating from Panama should come as no surprise. In his 1987 book, Hot Money and the politics of debt, Professor R.T. Naylor called Panama, ‘a country of convenience’. The result of US crackdown on profligate laundering taking place through Florida-based banks in the early 1980s and subsequent pressure being applied to the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, “was to reinforce Panama’s position as probably the most important regional centre for financing drug trafficking, depositing the profits and laundering the take”. Read more…


March 21st 2016

No longer novel: Addaction NPS conference – 15th March 2016

Speakers rattle the cage of the Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA) 

By Harry Shapiro

The conference was timed for the run-up to the enactment of the PSA originally due to come into force on 6th April. However according to a notice sent round to Constabularies, this is now slated for “the Spring” with 21 days notice of the Act coming into force.

Not since the decision to regrade cannabis from Class B to C has a piece of drug legislation created such a furore. Back in 2006, it was the tabloids, some mental health charities and moral minority campaigners who were outraged. Now it is those who campaign more generally for law reform who regard the new Act as not only another doomed tactic in the drug war, but one with more far reaching consequences. Read more…


The posts below were written by Harry Shapiro (Director of DrugWise) and have been transferred from

November 16th 2015

Agonies and ecstasies: the continuing story

Today (16th) sees the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of Leah Betts. The family decision to make public a photo of Leah in intensive care, which then became the centrepiece of a subsequent anti-drug campaign, made her one of the most iconic drug deaths of recent times.
Yet memories fade fast; during the first week of Channel Five in 1997, I went with a camera crew to the Sanctuary, a 3500 capacity legal rave venue in Milton Keynes to try and ascertain among the dancers what impact Leah’s death had on their own drug-taking. The answers fell roughly into two camps; some had switched to amphetamine, but the majority just felt Leah had been one of the unlucky ones. And to a large extent they were right; Leah took her pills at home, not in a hot steamy club, and subsequently died of dilutional hyponaetremia – in other words, she drank too much water probably in the mistaken belief that this would offset the effects of MDMA – a catastrophic misreading of the perfectly valid harm reduction message about not getting dehydrated. Read more…

October 5th 2015

Beyond the fear factor

There have been proposals for drug consumption rooms in Dublin as part of the response to escalating heroin problems in the city. This is a perfectly valid and evidence-based harm reduction approach, but it is also a reminder that often very little is done to help people with serious drug problems unless it is closely associated with making the world a safer place for the rest of us.

If you look at the history of most if not all harm reduction initiatives across the world – Canada, Australia, Denmark, Switzerland and elsewhere, they have all been ultimately funded by what I call here the fear factor and concerns for wider community safety. Just taking  England as an example; before the advent of HIV and the fear that injecting drug users would spread the disease to the rest of us, most new service users (at least in London) were on 28 day reducing doses of methadone and that was it. I’m sure there will be some readers who will think – “and good job too” – except users were voting with their feet. One survey done in London in the early 80s showed that for every heroin user in drug treatment, five users were not. And given the scale of rising heroin use at the time, there is every chance that those figures would have got much worse, but for the sudden and urgent need to attract people into treatment. Read more…


August 6th 2015

Playing the game

Some fifteen years ago, around the time the World Anti-Doping Agency was being formed, I attended an international drugs-in-sport conference in London. There was an almost messianic fervour in the room that drugs could be eliminated from sport. You could imagine the same atmosphere pervading the Opium Conferences of the early twentieth century – a solemn conviction that robust international controls would deal a death blow to the scourge of drug use.

It may well be that to use drugs or change your blood to gain advantage is equivalent to a boxer putting a brick in a boxing glove, but there are some paradoxes here – and not a little cant. If the name of the game is to allow an athlete to succeed on their own natural ability, then how come you can only really succeed at the very top as a result of long-term, intense, highly specialised training, scientifically devised and monitored dietary regimes and leading edge technological equipment? What’s ‘natural’ about that – and surely all this is by any definition ‘performance enhancing’? And who is most likely to benefit from all this elite and expensive assistance? The promising sprinter from Chad or Bolivia or Laos? No chance, unless by some miracle they are spotted and get a ‘scholarship’ to an American university and so access to the best of everything. Read more…