The late-1960s saw a major shift in British government drug policy. Until that time, GPs were allowed to prescribe maintenance doses of drugs to addicts. A few GPs over-prescribed and a small black market in drugs that originated with the National Health Service developed. The government responded to this by preventing GPs from prescribing heroin and instead sent addicts to a restricted number of treatment centres. This marked the start of an American-style criminalisation of hard drugs in the UK. The result, as any objective observer could have predicted, was a disaster.
The two GPs who were really singled out in the scapegoating that accompanied this shift in drug policies away from maintenance and onto reduction were Lady Frankau and John Petro. Frankau died in March 1967, thus it was Petro who’d inherited her script hungry patients and fed their needs, who felt the heat from this witch-hunt.
John Petro was born in Poland and came to the UK as a child in 1916. Until the mid-sixties he had a distinguished professional reputation, having been seconded into the navy during the war to work with Alexander Fleming on the administration of penicillin to troops. Petro’s troubles are said to have begun in 1966 when he was run down by a car. He soon found himself in financial difficulties because he was unable to continue with his practice while recuperating, and he was declared bankrupt in March 1967. Having no regular base to work from, Petro began issuing maintenance prescriptions from London hotels, underground stations, and even his car. He justified this by saying it was difficult to find premises from which to oversee the clinical treatment of addicts due to their unpopularity.
The media dubbed Petro the ‘junkie’s friend’ and he was widely perceived to be over prescribing drugs to addicts in return for payment, with the excess drugs obtained being sold on at a profit to those who were not yet, but would shortly be, ‘hooked’. On 14 February 1968 Petro was fined £1,700 at Marylebonne Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to 17 drug offences, all of which related to him failing to accurately record details of exactly what drugs he’d supplied to which patient. On 31 May 1968 he was struck off by the General Medical Council for providing drugs without making adequate inquires as to medical histories, circumstances or clinical condition, and other acts of negligence.
After this, Petro found himself hauled before various courts for a variety of offences, ranging from theft to possession of drugs. This continued until at least June 1975 when he was handed a 12 month suspended sentence for obtaining prescriptions by deception. Petro became a whipping boy for the establishment, but it was their drug policies and not Petro that are the root cause of still soaring addiction figures.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!