Nuclear war, magic mushrooms and a teenage trip I’ll never forget

Vladimir Putin’s decision on Sunday to put his ‘deterrence forces’ – code for nuclear weapons – in a high state of readiness revived a fear in me that I haven’t experienced since the fall of the Berlin Wall. As someone who spent his teenage years during the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war was never very far from my mind. Indeed, one of the biggest political battles back then was between unilateralists and multilateralists and I was firmly in the latter camp, even starting a local anti-CND group called ‘A Sensible Approach to Nuclear Questions’. But the two sides were united in their fear of Armageddon, only disagreeing about

Is Britain heading for an opioid crisis?

Almost everyone here that I’ve spoken to about it assumes that the opioid crisis in the United States won’t ever come to the UK. Yes, the problem there is accelerating. Drug overdose deaths in America are now at more than 100,000 a year. A few days ago the Lancet predicted 1.2 million dead by 2029 but… it couldn’t happen here. We hold up those three sacred letters — NHS — like a talisman to ward off the evil. We tut about Big Pharma and its undue influence in Washington, we remove the Sackler name from galleries and museums, and then we get back to watching America overdose on TV. The

For Glasgow – with love and squalor: The Second Cut, by Louise Welsh, reviewed

Never, never kill the dog. It’s rule one in the crime writer’s manual. Cats are bad enough, as I can testify, having once had the temerity to behead a cat — in a novel, I mean —and then crucify the mutilated corpse upside down on a church door. As a general rule, if you kill a domestic pet in your crime story you should expect a hostile postbag of epic proportions. But rules are meant to be broken. Which is why it’s a pleasure to find in Louise Welsh’s latest novel a stinking, maggot-swarming Jack Russell entombed in a chest with a tightly fitting lid. She’s an author whose stock-in-trade

Why legalising cannabis is safer than decriminalising it

I hate weed. Week after week, I see the tragic effects of this substance and how it destroys the minds of the young. I work on a mental health ward which, like many around the country, is home to some of the victims of our current lackadaisical attitude towards cannabis. This drug is particularly dangerous to the developing brains of young people and yet we know that this age group are the most likely to be experimenting with it. Despite protestations from the powerful pro–cannabis lobby, it has been proved beyond doubt that cannabis use is associated with depression, anxiety, psychosis and avolition (poor motivation). A third of psychosis cases

The debt I owe to cannabis

Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Jeremy Hunt have all admitted that they tried cannabis as young adults. Neither the admission nor the THC psychoactive component of the drug, which makes you high, seem to have done them much harm in their pathways to successful careers in parliament. But a new governmental war on drugs is afoot which some fear may lead to unexpected consequences, and not just for those who ply their trade on street corners or draw up on Deliveroo-type scooters to supply cannabis as if it were a takeaway curry. I wouldn’t bet on everyone getting caught up in judicial dragnets, though; I imagine that middle-class consumers will

James Delingpole

Vital, damning docudrama about the Sacklers: Disney+’s Dopesick reviewed

One of my first jobs in journalism was as the arts correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. I’d hop on my motorbike in my greasy leathers (which I used to wear around the office, much to my then editor Max Hastings’s consternation) and zoom off to all manner of exhibition and gallery openings, many of them somehow related to the name Sackler. The Sackler family at the time were the world’s greatest arts philanthropists, with galleries and museums and rooms named after them from New York, London and Paris to the Far East. Like almost everyone, I had no idea of the source of their apparently limitless wealth. But I knew

A war on drugs? I do hope so

I’m not going to lie, I let out a little chuckle — maybe even a murmur of approval — when I read that the government plans to target middle-class drug users. About time, I thought to myself. For too long the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has focused on the poverty-stricken poppy-growers in far-flung fields, or the desperate ‘mules’ who risk life and liberty to get drugs across borders, or the working-class kids in the UK who get caught up in drug-dealing because they feel they have few other prospects in life. And all the while the privileged people whose narcissistic needs motor this industry, whose selfish desire for a synthetic high is

Did Chinese fentanyl kill Michael K. Williams?

Did Chinese-manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, kill Michael Kenneth Williams, the man who played ‘Omar’ in The Wire? Within minutes of his death being announced yesterday, speculation was circulating on Twitter. New York Police Department sources have told the Daily Mail they suspect fentanyl was involved. The world only seems to notice when a celebrity overdoses. In 2016, Prince’s death from a cocktail of fentanyl and other substances was an important milestone in awakening America to the horrific opioid drug epidemic that had crept up on the country since the 1990s. But lots of non-famous people are dying all the time because of fentanyl from China, which has flooded the

The horror of Scotland’s drug death epidemic

Drug deaths in Scotland have reached their highest-ever level, with Scottish government figures recording 1,339 fatalities in 2020. When the statistics for 2019 were published last December, confirming Scotland as the drug death capital of Europe, Nicola Sturgeon was forced to sack her drugs minister and pledge a £250 million investment in support and treatment services. The current drugs minister, Angela Constance, need not worry about her position just yet. Today’s numbers reflect the final year of her predecessor’s watch, but they nonetheless make for brutal reading. Constance has called them ‘heart-breaking’ but that is far from adequate. 2020 was the seventh year in a row in which the death rate

There’s no such thing as ‘woke coke’

Have you heard about ‘Woke Coke’ – ‘Wokaine’, if you will? Apparently drug dealers are now targeting the WaWs (Woke And Wealthy) with gear at £200 a gram (when I quit six years ago, £70 was the going price) and a promise that your particular little bindel of joy is ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘ethically sourced’ from ‘well-paid farmers.’  Reading about it this week, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or call the police and report myself for historical crimes against humanity. I don’t regret much in my long, louche life. But if I could go back in time and undo one thing, I’d return to 1985 when I started taking

Nicola Sturgeon and the rise of the traumocracy

In March, Nicola Sturgeon was asked about her response to Scotland’s drug deaths crisis. She said failings were ‘not because we didn’t care, or because we weren’t trying to do things, but we have concluded because we couldn’t do anything else, that we didn’t get it right’. This is how she addressed the worst drugs death rate in Europe and the government failings which fuelled it. An admission of regret and some self-justification: a recognition of the harm done but little in the way of a roadmap for future prevention. Drug deaths were a matter of regret rather than a health and social problem that needs solving. It wasn’t about

Sun, sex and acid: Thom Gunn in California

San Francisco is a fantastic place… it’s terribly sunny… I am having a splendid hedonistic time here… I find myself continually going to marvellous orgies where I meet unbelievably sexy people… I dropped acid for Christmas Day… had sex for SIX HOURS… Then to New York, which I’ve never enjoyed so much… Some of the people I met introduced me to cocaine (one of the people was a singer for a pop group called Looking Glass), and that is a fine drug… Life is such fun here… I had an extraordinary three-way with two guys I met in a bar… I am really pretty happy… I’ve been doing a lot

Our mental health is going up in smoke

As we creep back into the open, as the Covid wards empty and the mental health clinics fill up, how are we going to tell what’s driven people crazy: lockdown, or what seems to have been a favourite lockdown hobby — smoking weed? Last week Sadiq Khan, London’s goblin mayor, announced that if re-elected he’ll set up a commission to look into the case for decriminalising cannabis. It’s not in Khan’s gift to decriminalise anything — Downing Street has already issued a response which amounted to: ‘Decriminalise dope? You must be high.’ But Khan doesn’t care. This isn’t about the policy, it’s about the posturing. The race for City Hall

The conservative appeal of drug gangs

According to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, the easing of lock-down will be accompanied by a rise in crime in the capital, including the violent type associated with drug gangs. Just last week, the police recovered two zombie knives, two Rambo-style blades and a kitchen knife at the scene of an attack on a 16-year-old boy in Brixton. But it would be wrong to view this coming crimewave as a problem that just affects London’s underclass. According to Sheldon Thomas, the chief executive of an outreach organisation called Gangsline, a rising number of middle-class teenagers are being sucked into the gangster lifestyle in the wake of Covid. Thomas rather

Impossibly exciting: Sky Atlantic’s ZeroZeroZero reviewed

ZeroZeroZero is the impossibly exciting new drugs series from Roberto Saviano — the author who gave us perhaps my all-time favourite TV drama Gomorrah. What I love about Gomorrah is its utter ruthlessness and total artistic integrity. It’s set amid the warring drugs factions of the Neopolitan mafia (the Camorra) and never at any point do you feel that authenticity is being sacrificed for reasons of marketability or politically correct sensitivities or narrative arc. Not without reason has it been called the series ‘where characters die before they become characters’. Saviano himself has paid a terrible price for his honesty. He grew up among those Neapolitan gangs — ‘I saw

Japan has the answer to Scotland’s drugs crisis

As a Scot, I found the news that my country had registered, by some distance, the most drug-related deaths in Europe last year profoundly depressing. But my sprits sank even lower when I saw the reaction. Rather than provoking a genuine debate about how to tackle this crisis, the dismal statistics merely set off yet another round of the Holyrood vs Westminster blame game. There were wearily predictable calls for more money, more treatment programmes, more ‘consumption rooms’, more methadone, and even, for those under the illusion that it isn’t virtually the de facto situation anyway, legalisation. It seems to be accepted as a fact now that a significant number

Scotland’s drug problem is a national scandal

You have seen the chart and it is grim. A list of European countries ranked by annual drugs deaths, with Scotland at the top and a long red bar beside it. Scotland recorded 1,264 deaths from drug misuse in 2019, more than twice the number of HIV-related deaths in Somalia and more than double the death toll from terrorism in Iraq in the same year. Two-thirds of deaths were among Scots aged 35 to 54 but there was also an increase among the 15-to-24 demographic. More than 90 per cent involved multiple-drug cocktails, with ‘Street Valium’ cited in two-thirds of cases. The fake benzodiazepines can be bought for 50p a

When will the SNP get a grip on Scotland’s drugs death crisis?

For more than twenty years, Brian was left to rot on a methadone prescription. Month-after-month of opioid replacement therapy was the best course of action, his treatment team concluded, making no effort to definitively end his debilitating drug dependency. For Brian’s parents, watching their son slowly succumb to the steely grip of addiction, it was two decades of agony. Then, in 2018, a ‘top up’ hit of street Valium proved too much, and – as they put it – he was at last ‘released from his torture’. In Scotland – which has the worst recorded drug death rate in Europe – such stories are disturbingly common. But is the SNP

A hard watch, but ultimately a rewarding one: County Lines reviewed

County Lines is the kind of social realism that the British do so well, if not too well. In other words, a hard watch. In fact, at times it’s so unbearable you might find yourself pressing pause because you’ve suddenly remembered the fridge needs a clean, say. Or the hall: couldn’t it do with a tidy-up? But this tale of a young boy caught up in transporting drugs has to be tough. And there is sympathy, tenderness and hope, too. As for the kid, who is a sort of modern-day Billy from Kes, you will certainly take him to heart. The film is written and directed by Henry Blake, a

‘Cocaine addiction is time-consuming’: the rise and fall of Kevin Rowland and Dexys

When Dexys Midnight Runners reached No. 1 in the singles charts in spring 1980 with the song ‘Geno’, the band had to travel to London for their coronation appearance on Top of the Pops. For the first time they could afford the train fare. But Kevin Rowland — their singer, leader, creative director, boss, whatever you want to call him — insisted they continue to jump the barriers at Birmingham New Street. ‘I said, “Come on lads, we’re still going to bunk the trains.” And they went, “What?” “Come on, the inspector’s coming. We’ve got to get in the toilets.” And the drummer said, “Kev. We’re No. 1 in the