Source: Daily Telegraph
Date: 25 November 2006

Give addicts NHS heroin, senior officer says

By John Steele, Crime Correspondent

Howard Roberts: 'legalise heroin and prescribe it on the NHS'

A police chief has suggested that heroin users should be prescribed the drug on the NHS to tackle their addiction and stop them committing crime.

Howard Roberts, the deputy chief constable of Nottinghamshire Police, told a drugs conference it would cost £12,000 a year for each addict to be treated with heroin, also known as diamorphine, but the treatment would be cost-effective in the long run because drug-using offenders stole at £45,000 worth of property a year to feed their addiction.

Currently, around 300 addicts a year are prescribed the heroin substitute, methadone. Doctors have always had the legal power in England and Wales to prescribe heroin, but GPs do so extremely rarely, not least because they are worried about being identified as doctors with stocks of heroin.

Currently, trials are being conducted in three unidentified locations to treat around 30 chronic users with heroin. However, the trials are not aimed at criminals.

Mr Roberts stressed his comments, made at a conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in Manchester, were a personal view and did not reflect ACPO policy, though he is vice chairman of the ACPO drugs committee.

He said: “We should actively consider prescribing diamorphine, pharmaceutical heroin, to those seriously addicted to heroin as part of a treatment programme for addiction.

“My motives for making such a statement are frankly this: there is an undeniable link between addicted offenders and appalling levels of criminality, as heroin and crack cocaine addicts commit crime from burglary to robbery, to sometimes murder, to get the money to buy drugs to satisfy their addiction. The resulting misery to society is huge.”

Home Office research showed heroin addicts commit 432 offences a year, he added.

Since last year, Mr Roberts said, “we have seen more people murdered here in the UK by drug driven offenders, tens of thousands of homes broken into and persons subject of robbery by drug fuelled offenders, stealing to feed their addiction, countless lives and families broken apart.

“Therefore, the logic is clear, I suggest, that we take highly addicted offenders out of committing crime to feed their addiction, into closely supervised treatment programmes that, as part of the programme, can prescribe diamorphine.”

Martin Barnes, chief executive of the drugs charity DrugScope, said: “There is compelling evidence that heroin prescribing, although more expensive than some forms of drug treatment, is cost-effective in reducing drug-related crime and other costs to communities.”

According to the Home Office, three trials - in unidentified locations in London, the south east and the north - have been underway since the begining of last year to measure the success of treating heroin addicts with heroin. The trials will run for another two years.

They are sponsored by the Home Office, the National Treatment Agency and the Department of Health.

The Home Office stressed that while breaking the addiction of offenders might be a by-product of the trials, their principal aim was to help chronic users deemed suitable on clinical grounds for controlled treatment with heroin, as part of attempts to get them off the drug.

Similar schemes in Holland and Switzerland reported some users turning away from crime.

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