Whilst politicians in this country refuse to talk any sense about our utterly failed drug policy and there is still a naive belief that a 'war on drugs' can be won, we have this news from Durham. How can this be legal and how can it be safe when I always thought that only doctors were able to prescribe potentially dangerous medication? What sort of society are we living in where the health service can't do this, but a police force can?
Durham police will give addicts heroin to inject in 'shooting galleries'
Force will be first in England to implement radical approach that has achieved positive results in a number of European countries
Heroin addicts will be given supplies to inject in specially designated “shooting galleries” under radical plans to tackle drug-related crime in Durham. The police force is set to become the first in England to implement an approach pioneered in Switzerland and credited with achieving positive results in a number of European countries but unlikely to attract much domestic political support.
Under the plans, Durham constabulary, which was last week rated the best in England, would buy diamorphine – pharmaceutical heroin – to give to addicts, which they could inject twice a day in supervised facilities. The proposals, currently under scrutiny by public health officials in the area, come as Glasgow is trying to push through its own plans to open the UK’s first “fix room”, where clean, medical–grade heroin would be given to some users.
Ron Hogg, Durham’s police, crime and victims’ commissioner, said the UK was failing on drugs and desperately needed to try alternative approaches. “If we look at the UK’s position, we have got some of the highest levels of heroin abuse in Europe, also of cocaine use and [drug-related] deaths,” said Hogg. “Someone’s got to step up to the mark and do something a little bit different.”
Durham has about 2,000 heroin addicts, but Hogg said the scheme, known as heroin-assisted treatment, would target a small number of “really prolific, at-risk offenders”. It could be administered through the north-east county’s six existing recovery and treatment centres for drug users and alcoholics.
A part government-funded pilot scheme in Darlington, London and Brighton involving 127 chronic addicts found that giving them heroin significantly reduced both their drug usage and crime. In December, the government’s expert drug advisers suggested introducing heroin-assisted treatment after statistics showed deaths from the drug in England and Wales have soared recently. But the Home Office rejected the recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, saying it had “no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms”.
Hogg, who spent 30 years as a police officer, said: “When I first joined [the police] I was part of the ‘best [to] lock them up brigade’, but you observe it doesn’t work. “Even now I am still going out more than 30 years later with police officers on raids we were doing in 1978. My experience has certainly shaped my thinking.
“Sadly, none of the political parties is up for change. Our whole drugs legislation should be fundamentally reviewed. I have been there to see the bodies with needles sticking out, the human despair. It will actually pay in the long-term. The whole idea is to get people into recovery and change their lifestyle.”
Hogg claimed that politicians were out of step with the public, who realise the current policy is not working. The cost of supervised heroin treatment is about £15,000 per patient per year, a third of the typical cost of keeping someone in prison. It is about three times the cost of prescribing methadone, the usual GP-administered treatment for heroin addicts. However, methadone has its own issues in that it also highly addictive.
Danny Kushlick, director of Transform, said: “We congratulate policymakers in Durham. Heroin prescribing is proven to save lives, improve health and reduce crime. In fact, one would have to wonder why anyone would opt for criminal control of the trade, especially when overdose deaths in UK are at their highest level ever.”