17 JUNE 1955, Page 4


HEROIN is in the position of the prisoner in the dock. The charge is that it does more harm as an element in the international drug traffic than it does good in relieving pain. Upon this charge it has been found guilty and banished. It is impossible to feel that the case against it has been made out in a way which would satisfy a British court. High official opinion, represented by the Minister of Health's Medi- cal Advisory Committee, considers that there are satisfactory substitutes for heroin; but weighty unofficial opinion (includ- ing Mr. Walter Elliot and the British Medical Association) believes that there is, for certain kinds of pain, no adequate substitute. And, further, it is acknowledged that the substitutes are themselves habit-forming, and so, actually or potentially, little less dangerous than heroin. The issue is a grave one. The case in which heroin is most typically prescribed is the terminal case of cancer. The responsibility of withholding relief here is appalling, even if benefit were certain to result elsewhere. It is good news that the Minister has consented to see a BMA dele- gation on the subject. It will be better news still when he permits heroin to resume its merciful operation.