§ 6.52 p.m.
§ The Earl of Arran rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].
§ The order follows a decision taken last February by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs to bring buprenorphine and pemoline under the control of the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. As a party to that convention, we are required to bring the drugs under the control of our domestic legislation.756
§ Buprenorphine is an analgesic drug prescribed by doctors to alleviate moderate to severe pain and is marketed in the United Kingdom under the brand name of Temgesic. Pemoline is a weak central nervous system stimulant which is used mainly in the treatment of hyperactive children. Its brand name is Volital.
§ At the present time we have no evidence that pemoline is being abused to any extent in the United Kingdom, and to that extent the order is a contingency measure. But we are worried by the increasing illicit use of buprenorphine. This has been most prevalent in Scotland and in other areas where, because of police activity, heroin has been in short supply. This has led to a disturbing incidence of thefts from chemists' shops and pharmaceutical warehouses.
§ To comply with the requirements of Section 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has consulted the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs about the proposal. The council is content that both substances should be controlled.
§ The effect of the order is to include both drugs in the list specified in Class C of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act. This is the lowest tier and its effect inter alia will be to make the unlawful possession and supply of the drugs punishable by maximum penalties of two and five years' imprisonment respectively and/or an unlimited fine.
§ If the order is approved tonight, my right honourable friend will submit amendment regulations to bring both drugs under the control of the misuse of drugs regulations. I can provide details of these controls if your Lordships wish, but in broad terms they will be similar to those that apply to other drugs which have the same potential for abuse. The regulatory proposals, which have been recommended by the advisory council, will comply with the obligations of the United Nations convention.
§ My right honourable friend has also consulted the medical professions and the pharmaceutical industry and I am glad to say that the proposals have their support.
§ If the order is approved, my right honourable friend will aim to bring it and the relevant regulations into force by the end of September. I therefore commend it to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee]. —(The Earl of Arran.)
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl for his clear explanation of the purpose of the order. We note that its provisions are needed in order that Britain may comply with a decision made, I think, last February by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs which decided to add the two substances to the 1971 convention. It is clear that these drugs, if misused, can cause harm.
Perhaps I may put two points to the noble Earl to improve my understanding of the use and abuse of the two drugs. First I understand from what he 757 said that buprenorphine, if I have pronounced it correctly, is a painkiller and issued for opiate addiction. Will he give us some idea of how many incidents of abuse there have been in the United Kingdom through prescribing and the failure to keep the drugs in safe conditons and how many cases there have been of addiction?
Secondly, will the Minister say what problems we have encountered in the United Kingdom as a result of the use of the drug? I believe that he said that there had been no evidence of abuse, so perhaps he will confirm that we are relying on the statement of the United Nations Commission in order to add the substance to the list. My final point concerns the list of substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Will the noble Earl say whether he is satisfied that the system which requires specific drugs to be added to the list works properly?
In the light of the awful drug problem in this country which has escalated so seriously since 1980, we should like confirmation that the Minister is satisfied that the powers under the Act are sufficient to deal with the deteriorating situation and apparently hopeless problem. Given his assurance on those points, I certainly support the measure and agree that those two substances are dangerous and should therefore be added to the list of substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Earl for giving such a clear exposition of the order. I found that there had been no discussion on it in the other place, so there was no help or guidance there. I found it difficult to obtain from the drug agencies any guidance on the drug pemoline whose use as a stimulant has been well explained by the noble Earl.
There are two points that strike me. First, the Government are alert to the danger of drugs which are available to the general public. It is heartening to see that orders such as this put those drugs out of reach of the unauthorised user. It seems to me from the noble Earl's remarks, particularly with regard to Scotland and the police actions against heroin, that there is an enormous overlap between drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol and so on. Thus, if there is an effective drive against heroin, it is more than likely that users will be channelled into using other substances. Since I have been interested and involved in alcohol and drug addiction, I have always felt it a pity that we look upon alcohol and drug addiction and the misuse of prescription drugs as separate issues. They are all part of one worrying problem, but it is heartening to see that the Government are on top of it in that way. I thoroughly support the contents of the order.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, naturally I welcome the broad agreement that both the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, have expressed on the measure. Perhaps I may answer the two or three questions that the noble Baroness put to me. First, the misuse of buprenorphine is not quantifiable because the drug is not yet controlled but our contacts with the medical 758 profession indicate that buprenorphine is increasingly being demanded by drug misusers.
On the noble Baroness's second question which concerns addiction, as yet this information is not available because the drug is not one which is specified in the notification of addicts regulations. However, essentially addicts generally use only buprenorphine when they are unable to obtain drugs such as heroin and methadone, addiction to which is notifiable.
The second drug to which the noble Baroness referred was pemoline. I understand that pemoline is misused in Africa in particular, in the Middle East and in Asia, but not so far in the United Kingdom. We have an international obligation under the United Nations convention to contribute to worldwide controls. This is a contingency measure.
In reply to the final point of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, about whether we were satisfied that the power in the Act achieves satisfactory controls, inasmuch as there can be satisfactory controls, we have satisfaction at the moment. I am obviously grateful for the remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland.
In summarising this order, as noble Lords have heard, it is essentially a technical measure to limit the scope for misuse of certain drugs, in this instance buprenorphine and pemoline, which make a contribution to the illicit drugs markets either in this country or abroad. That contribution is small in comparison with the major problems presented by heroin and cocaine. However, we must ensure that any drug which has potential for causing harm sufficient to contribute a social problem is effectively controlled. I commend the order.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.