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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 12:05 GMT
Call to 'legalise' heroin
Francis Wilkinson
Francis Wilkinson wants to see a new approach to heroin addiction
Heroin addicts should be prescribed heroin to help them kick their addiction and cut crime, according to a former police officer.

Francis Wilkinson, former chief constable of Gwent police, has called on the government to radically reform the drug laws, which he believes are failing the country's 270,000 heroin addicts.

The (Swiss) research demonstrates there are positive outcomes: better health and less crime

Roger Howard
He says Britain should follow the lead of countries such as Switzerland and Holland where all heroin addicts are encouraged to enter treatment programmes.

In a report, entitled "Heroin: The Failure of Prohibition and What to Do Now", Mr Wilkinson argues that heroin should be supplied to all who need it.

Illegal market

He believes if addicts were given the treatment they needed, property crime in the UK could be reduced by more than 30%.

"At the moment 90% of the regular heroin users in this country are using the illegal market," he told on the BBC's Today programme.

"They are buying impure, brown heroin and they are stealing on average 13,500 each per year to fund their habits.

"That generates about one third of property crime in the country and destroys lives and families."

In Switzerland, a six-year study found that prescribing heroin to hardened addicts who had failed on more traditional abstinence-orientated programmes or methadone programmes, was successful.

The study, led by Professor Jurgen Rehm at the Addiction Research Institute in Zurich, revealed that heroin-assisted treatment also produced positive effects with respect to health and social outcomes.

And the longer a patient remained on a heroin-assisted programme the more likely they were to move onto another more traditional method of treatment.

Expert panel

Roger Howard, chief executive of drugs charity Drugscope, said: "A number of professionals in the drug misuse treatment field have called for the extension of the current arrangements for the prescribing heroin which are quite limited in the UK.

"The (Swiss) research demonstrates there are positive outcomes: better health and less crime.

"It suggests, for some of the most intractable situations where drug users have tried and failed a number of treatment attempts, that it can provide a bridge into other forms of treatment."

The Home Secretary has said he will look at the wider prescribing of heroin and the setting up of an expert panel to look into it.

"In many ways it would be going back to the old British system," said Mr Wilkinson. "And oddly enough the Swiss model their system which has been so successful on the old British system.

"It is only in the 90s that we have become so obsesses about not providing heroin and providing the much more dangerous drug methadone instead."

An all party government committee was meeting on Tuesday to examine the government's current drugs policies.

Francis Wilkinson, Former chief constable of Gwent
"We need to help addicts not abandon them to the criminal market"
See also:

12 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australian opposition backs heroin trial
14 Oct 98 | Medical notes
22 Feb 00 | J-M
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