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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 11:09 GMT
Doctors oppose more heroin prescription
GPs are against the idea of widening the availability of heroin on prescription
GPs are against the idea of widening the availability of heroin on prescription
GPs are opposing calls to widen the prescribing of heroin to addicts, fearing it could create "addicts for life".

Home Secretary David Blunkett announced in October that the Home Office and Department of Health would draw up new guidelines for supplying heroin on prescription to addicts.

The idea has gained also favour amongst some senior police officers, who believe it could reduce the amount of drug-related crime.

But the Royal College of General Practitioners told a session of the home affairs select committee on Tuesday that it is against the idea.


We would not be getting to the route of the problem

Dr Claire Gerada, RCGP
Doctors' reluctance to prescribe heroin is emphasised by the findings of a survey by Imperial College in London.

It found that fewer than half of those entitled to hold a licence to administer the drug had applied for one.

The survey also found that the Home Office list of prescribers was inaccurate. Many who supposely had licences did not, others could not be traced.

Police backing

At the moment, around 300 addicts around the country are prescribed heroin.

Some senior police officers have called for the scheme to be widened.

Last week, Chief Superintendent John Issac of Devon and Cornwall Police told BBC's Newsnight: "There will always be a debate among the medical profession about the ethics of prescribing heroin.

"But from a police officer's point of view, I have to say that if it reduces crime, reduces the number of victims, that has to be a very serious consideration. And I would support it."

The Association of Chief Police Officers said the area was "something it was looking at".

But the RCGP said it was concerned about spending up to 15,000 per year funding heroin prescriptions for a user, money it said could be better spent in improving treatment programmes to help addicts stop taking drugs altogether.

Dr Claire Gerada, a south London GP who has run a clinic for drugs misusers for the last 10 years, will attend the session on the college's behalf.

She told BBC News Online she was worried that decisions about treatment were being considered without the input of doctors.

"My fundamental concern is that we would be running the risk of creating addicts for life," she said.

'Pie-in-the-sky'

She added that increased prescription of heroin would not be the solution for the drugs misusers.

"We would not be getting to the route of the problem. We would just be colluding with them."

Dr Gerada added that there was no need to increase the amount of heroin prescribed when methadone, the heroin substitute, was effective and a fifth of the cost of heroin.

The British Medical Association (BMA) backed the RCGP.

Dr Rob Barnett, a Liverpool GP and member of the BMA's GPs committee, said: "We have enough problems encouraging GPs to prescribe methadone. Going down the route of telling them to prescribe heroin is pie-in-the-sky."

Christine Glover, past president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, also attended the select committee hearing.

She said pharmacists' main concern was addressing problems which arise out of the current methadone prescribing procedures.

She told BBC News Online she believed GPs should be able to prescribe heroin, as long as they had adequate training and support.

"We have to recognise that there will be a cohort who will always be addicts and that's probably the right cohort for this measure."

Training call

Dr Andrew Thompson, the NHS Alliance's special adviser on drug misuse, told the committee that GPs and pharmacists need more training, resources and support to deal with the growing demands of treating drug addicts.

He said the problems of drug misuse and addiction were exacting an increasing toll on GPs.

"Addiction services have been traditionally an under-resourced area of an under-resourced speciality, psychiatry, and the users on the waiting lists, six months or more in places, are either left without a service, or are prescribed for by a few willing GPs with little training, and no resource or remuneration for this."

The select committee session is part of a long term inquiry into the effectiveness of the government's drug policy.

The inquiry is due to end in February, with a report expected in the Spring.

The Home Office has convened a meeting of experts to take place in February, which will update national guidance in a bid to minimise variations in practice around the country.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Danny Shaw
"Family doctors are concerned about plans for GPs to prescribe heroin"
Drugs charity Transform's Danny Kushlick
"GPs have a significant part to play"
See also:

06 Nov 01 | Health
Call to 'legalise' heroin
12 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australian opposition backs heroin trial
14 Oct 98 | Medical notes
Heroin
22 Feb 00 | J-M
Methadone
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