Europe: British Heroin Maintenance Program to Expand 4/29/05
Drug War Chronicle, Issue #384 -- 4/29/05 (http://stopthedrugwar.org)
A British program that provides free heroin to addicts is set to expand in June, the National Health Service's Treatment Agency announced last week. In an ongoing pilot program, some 450 heroin users who have not responded to methadone or other treatments currently receive the drug. If that initial run is evaluated as being a success, the number receiving prescription heroin could nearly double, an agency spokesman said.
The British government has responded to advice from its own drug experts that similar heroin maintenance programs in Switzerland and Holland have significantly reduced drug-related crime and other social problems. A similar experimental program is now underway in Canada, with addicts in Vancouver already receiving maintenance doses and the program set to expand to Montreal and Toronto.
In addition to 450 people receiving prescription heroin, the ongoing trials include another 3,000 who are receiving methadone. According to the National Health Service, there are 56,000 registered heroin users in Britain, but independent drug experts, such as Drugscope say the actual number of addicts is closer to 200,000.
Participants begin with oral methadone, and if that fails to reduce user criminality, injection methadone is the next step. If that, too, fails, heroin injections are prescribed, along with counseling.
"The majority of patients on substitution medication get oral methadone," said an agency spokesman. "What we are suggesting is that, if that is not working, we may need to look at other forms of treatment. That could be a different dose of methadone. It could be injectable methadone or some may benefit from treatment with injectable heroin. There may be an increase in the numbers receiving injectable heroin, but we are talking about hundreds not thousands."
In the 1970s, as much as 20% of heroin addicts were prescribed heroin under NHS auspices, but that withered away under attacks from prohibitionists. Now, once again, the tide may be turning.
Visit http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Misc/60minliv.htm and http://www.drcnet.org/guide2-95/liverpool.html for background on past UK heroin maintenance programs.
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