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Last Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006, 07:45 GMT 08:45 UK
MEP backing NHS 'heroin clinics'
Shooting gallery in Sydney, Australia
'Shooting galleries' are used in some countries, such as Australia
A European MP is calling for heroin addicts in the North West to have access to the drug in NHS clinics.

Chris Davies, North West MEP, said the plan could cut crime, save lives and reduce harm to wider society.

Mr Davies pointed to a study in medical journal The Lancet, which claimed that in Zurich the approach had led to an 82% decline in heroin in 10 years.

In May, a panel of experts called for the introduction of rooms in the UK where users could legally inject drugs.

Mr Davies said more than 50% of burglaries in Britain are attributed to drug use, and the country has the highest rate of drug-associated deaths in Europe.

This report out of Zurich should make us stop and think and we need to keep an open mind about how we go about tackling this issue
John Ashton, director of public health

The Liberal Democrat MEP said: "I've long argued that we must break the link between the criminals who make huge sums of money out of supplying drugs and the people upon whom they prey.

"Providing addicts with heroin through the NHS can undermine the criminals, and stops users have to steal, turn to prostitution, or sell drugs themselves in order to pay for their habit."

John Ashton, Director of Public Health for the North West, said Mr Davies had put forward "an important argument".

'Forget principles'

"The problem is that when medicine gets wrapped up with social questions, common sense seems to go out of the window," he said.

"There comes a point when you have to forget your principles and just do the right thing."

Mr Ashton said a similar project ran in Liverpool in the late 1980s, but that any future scheme could only work if run in conjunction with other treatments.

He added: "This report out of Zurich should make us stop and think and we need to keep an open mind about how we go about tackling this issue."

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