Following this week’s Parliamentary debate on Addiction – gambling, drugs, sedatives and other forms of addiction – and the toxic society that has created the climate in which addiction takes root, David Alton said “there is a need for a comprehensive national strategy to look at all forms of addiction and to start tackling the root causes.”
In answwer to questions Lord Alton tabled the replies reveal that over the past 10 years 52,303,604 sedatives have been issued by the NHS at a cost to the public purse of £2.79 billion. But what about the root causes?
September 12th 2018
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, we are all deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, for the way in which he introduced today’s debate. His remarks were powerful, eloquent and moving. Indeed, all the contributions in this Committee this afternoon have reinforced his introductory remarks.
I want to raise three separate questions. The first is to reinforce what has already been said very powerfully about the issue of gambling. I too saw the remarks last week of Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, this is not just about the financial costs. Simon Stevens said:
“There is an increasing link between problem gambling and stress, depression and other mental health problems”.
With over 430,000 problem gamblers, including 25,000 children, it is clear that this is not a fringe issue. Earlier today at Question Time I was able to pursue this point in following up on the Question raised by the right reverend Prelate with the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie. I want to come back to that question for a moment because it was specifically focused on young people.
Although I was grateful to the noble Viscount for answering, in part, to get a full answer, I want to put the point again to the noble Baroness the Minister and, if she is not able to answer today, I hope that we will get a written response to the specific point about the Gambling Commission’s licensing codes and the targeting of children.
In particular, will the Minister consider a change to provision 3.2.11 of the social responsibility code so that the requirement to,
“not deliberately provide facilities for gambling in such a way as to appeal particularly to children or young people, for example by reflecting or being associated with youth culture”—
those are the words in the social responsibility code—applies to remote gambling as it already applies to non-remote gambling?
That is a sensible and easy thing that the Government could do and they should get on with it.
They should also do the things about advertising that the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, the right reverend Prelate and others have alluded to.
My second concern is something that I would like the Minister to raise with her noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, about representations that I sent him last week from Mr Nicholas Hatton about the popular dieting drug, Dinitrophenol.
Mr Hatton studied at Liverpool John Moores University, where I held a chair and am an honorary fellow.
It has a strong track record in research on drug abuse—in a city that sadly has relatively high rates of misuse of many kinds of drugs.
With others, Mr Hatton produced a paper on Dinitrophenol, a drug that he says is widely available on the high street, despite substantial evidence regarding its toxic effects.
Last year, a young woman from Worcester died after ingesting an overdose of the drug.
I hope that the Minister will arrange for the paper that I sent to the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, to be reviewed and will produce a considered written reply in due course, examining in particular any addictive aspects of this drug.
I reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said earlier about how simply making things more easily available is not necessarily the way to deal with a problem of addiction.Making them more easily available often provides open access for those people who might never have experienced those things in the first place. Simply having people addicted to things is hardly a solution.
My third point touches on the question of dangerous and massive addiction, particularly to antidepressants.
Just before the House rose for the Summer Recess, the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, answered a Written Question from me about how many antidepressants had been dispensed to people under the age of 18 and to primary school-age children in the past 10 years.
I asked also what the total cost was to the NHS. The reply was that:
“The information is not available in the format requested and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost”.
That simply is not good enough and is, I might say, uncharacteristic of a Minister who is usually marked by his courtesy and helpfulness to the House.
These are children we are talking about and this information should be readily available and in the public domain.
I ask the same question again today: how many antidepressants have been dispensed to those under the age of 18 and at what cost to the public purse?
I did, however, receive two rather more helpful replies which I want to put on the record.
I asked for details of the total number of antidepressant tablets which have been dispensed in the past 10 years.
The figure is a staggering 552,303,604 at a cost to the public purse of £2.79 billion.
The other question was about side-effects and the length of time for which these antidepressants have been taken by individual users. In the course of that reply, the noble Lord said:
“It is not possible to estimate how long on average patients receive antidepressants”.
I simply ask why not? Why are we not asking this fundamental question?
We fail to ask about the reasons why people become so deeply depressed in the first place.
We fail to address the reasons why people become obese, addicted to gambling, pornography or drugs.
All of this is bound up with the kind of society we have created, where, by way of example,half a million elderly people do not see a single person on an average day and where 800,000 children have no contact with their fathers.
What kind of society have we created?
This is what we should be addressing.
This is why the noble Lord is right to place these important issues before us today.
Minister ‘s Reply – Baroness Manzoor:
The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Hunt, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and other noble Lords, raised issues around Simon Stevens and sponsorship. GambleAware has published donations and pledges that cover the first quarter of the year. These total nearly £3 million, and many more operatives are expected to donate in the months to come. I understood about looking at the Gambling Commission, the licensing code and the responsibility for the code, but I will write to noble Lords on this issue as there is insufficient time for me to cover that.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, mentioned the overprescription of drugs. I share his concerns; it is an issue that I personally have been concerned with, as have the Government. I will write to him with more details on the issues that he raises. He also raised his letter on addiction relating to diet pills. We have received that letter and I reassure him that we are working very closely with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on a substantive reply.