By Johann Hari for Spectator. In 1982 a doctor called John Marks walked into a grey little GP surgery in the Wirral, in the drizzly north of England where they used to build ships but now they built nothing. It was his first day as a psychiatrist there, and he was about to discover that this surgery was doing something he regarded as mad. It was handing out heroin to addicts — free, on the NHS.
Dr Marks was a big, bearded Welshman from the valleys, and his real interest was the mystery of schizophrenia and what causes it. But because he was the new boy, he was given a chore. His colleagues said to him, ‘You can have all the addicts, John — all the alcoholics and drug addicts.’
He was about to stumble across one of the last remaining loopholes in the global war on drugs. A century ago, in 1914, the United States banned heroin and cocaine, and it then gradually used its diplomatic might to impose this ban across the world. Doctors tried to resist here in Britain and across the world, because they believed that if addicts were forced to buy contaminated drugs from armed criminal gangs, their health would only get worse. Doctors wanted to prescribe drugs to chronic addicts. This resistance only succeeded in one country — Britain. This little window of legal drug use continued quietly for decades.