Drug trade toil

IN Victorian times, the British empire was desperate for control of the drugs trade and profited from the misery of others. Now the wheel has turned full circle and it is others who profit from our misery - yet we are blind to the irony.

IN Victorian times, the British empire was desperate for control of the drugs trade and profited from the misery of others. Now the wheel has turned full circle and it is others who profit from our misery - yet we are blind to the irony.

Today, with the drugs issue highlighted by the tragedy of the Suffolk killings, JAMES MARSTON looks at some of the forgotten background behind one of society's most pressing problems.

IN 1800 the Chinese Imperial Government banned the import of opium - the active ingredient in heroin.

The drug had long been used to stop diarrhoea, but in the seventeenth and eighteenth century people began to use it recreationally - a turn of events that worried the country's leaders.

But despite the restriction, the opium trade continued to flourish.

Privately-owned vessels from many countries, including the United States, made huge profits from the growing number of addicts in China. Western nations were irritated by the high customs duties the Chinese forced them to pay, and by the attempts of Chinese authorities to stop the growing import trade in opium.

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It is these facts which led Britain, joined by France, to take up arms in the mid 1800s and start what became known as the Opium Wars to force China to continue the trade.

Today the horrific events of recent weeks have highlighted the fact that today it is Britain which is struggling with problems

Ipswich-based solicitor Neil Saunders sees the irony, that Britain now faces a problem it once profited from. He said: “The Opium Wars were criminal. These days the drug cartels protect their own interests by force and violence back then that behaviour was government policy.

“The irony is blindingly obvious. We wanted to protect profits while the Chinese suffered.”

A lawyer in the town for nearly 20 years, Mr Saunders has seen the haunting effects of drug addiction.

He said: “Drug addiction creates crime. The extent of the problem is very hard to quantify but many addicts are responsible for theft and burglary as they try to feed their habit, and as we know from these killings some of the girls sell sex to pay for drugs. Drug use has very sad consequences.”

Research shows that 95per cent of street prostitutes in Britain are using crack or heroin.

Mr Saunders said addicts need help and sympathy, but does not think legalisation of drugs is the answer.

He added: “You have to come down hard on drugs. I used to think that legalising cannabis would be a good idea but I have seen it send too many people loopy. I think the government should Napalm the poppy fields in Afghanistan where much of it is grown, or buy the crop. The trade should be hit at source.

“Drugs are the most terrible thing and addicts are helpless once they get into drugs. Their lives are appalling.”

The Suffolk killings have ignited a debate in Britain, that social care charity Turning Point believes needs airing. Richard Kramer, director of policy at Turning Point said: “This tragedy has drawn attention to the dangers that street workers face and the need for government to do much more to deal with the problem.

“The debate should not be whether prostitution should take place but accepting that it does, and try and control the where and how in order to address the damaging health and safety consequences. I think we have been reminded quite simply is that every one of these young women comes from a family and we need to change in the way prostitution is regarded.”

Turning Point is calling on government to focus more on community-based services to support those who work in the sex industry, to improve engagement, reduce harm and help them get out of the industry.

Richard added: “That involves greater investment in outreach based services, providing sexual health information; safety advice; condoms; referral to other agencies and drugs workers providing harm reduction advice and information, support and information about interventions and treatment options available.”

Weblinks:

www.turning-point.co.uk

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What do you think of the drugs issue? Should drugs be legalised? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

The Opium Wars were two wars fought in the mid-1800s that were the climax of a long dispute between Britain and China. In the second, France fought alongside Britain.

This dispute was around the opium trade which was perceived from a variety of cultural and economic vantage points, as is often the case with global economic conflicts.

The Chinese Emperor (Dao Guang) had banned opium in China due to its harmful effects on Chinese citizens and its degenerative impact on the Chinese culture.

The British Empire saw opium as a profitable good for commercial trade, as its import would help balance Britain's huge trade deficit with China.

The Opium Wars and the unequal treaties signed afterwards led in part to the downfall of the Chinese Empire, as many countries followed Britain and forced more treaties to increase trade within China.

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Q: Where does heroin come from?

A: The opium poppy. Opium is a milky juice taken from the poppy's seed pods.

Q: What does it look like?

A: In its purest form heroin is a white powder. The medical version is called diamorphine. Heroin sold on the street is a greyish or brown powder, because it is usually cut (mixed) with other substances such as baby milk, paracetamol or caffeine. One of the street names for heroin is 'brown'.

Q: How is it used?

A: Most users will start by smoking or inhaling heroin which has been heated on tin foil. Injection of heroin powder mixed with a liquid such as citric acid, lemon juice or vinegar, is a more dangerous way of taking heroin. The drug is injected under the skin, or into a vein. Intravenous injecting is more common than skin 'popping' (i.e. injecting just under the skin). Injecting into a vein is known as 'mainlining'.

Q: What are the effects?

A: Heroin is known to be an effective painkiller, so it suppresses uncomfortable feelings. It does this by depressing the central nervous system which carries those signals which tell the brain that you hurt. It also dilates blood vessels, so the body feels warm, and this also affects the eyes - users will have characteristic pin-point pupils.

The first-time heroin user will often have itchy skin and feel sick. Feelings vary from person to person, but can include detachment, contentment and extreme happiness, usually followed by drowsiness.

Q: What happens long term?

A: All new users start out thinking they can control their drug use, but the vast majority end up dependent. Regular use can increase tolerance to heroin, which means that the user needs more and more heroin to get the same effect. And heroin can bring with it other health problems.

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