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Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK
Mixed response for 'heroin on NHS' plan
Heroin could be prescribed to more addicts
Drugs workers have given a mixed reaction to reports that MPs are to support moves for more addicts to be prescribed heroin on the NHS.

The Observer reported that the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee is to back the idea when it issues a report next week into Britain's drug problems.

Home Secretary David Blunkett called in October for more addicts to be prescribed heroin, if that was one way to deal with drug addiction and drug-related crime.

It's tantamount to the NHS giving out alcohol to alcoholics

Drugs worker Les Vasey
Mr Blunkett believes more people dependent on drugs should get access to them on prescription provided they agree to seek treatment.

Drugs charity Drugscrope said wider heroin prescription was a good idea.

Spokesman Harry Shapiro said: "We would welcome this as a move to reducing drug-related crime.

"If they attach to that the capacity for the setting-up of safe injecting rooms, that would be even better."

'Injecting rooms'

Liberal Democrat home affairs Simon Hughes spokesman said: "Heroin should be available on prescription because obtaining it through safe outlets is much safer than forcing addicts back into the hands of dealers.

"Locking up addicts is also no answer.

"When we have the biggest prison overcrowding problem in Europe, putting more people in prison is no good for the drug users or for the British penal system."

However Les Vasey, a former police officer who now chairs a drugs rehabilitation clinic in Huddersfield, criticised the idea.

"It's tantamount to the NHS giving out alcohol to alcoholics," he said.

"What it's basically saying is OK, we recognise you've got a problem, and we think we can provide you with a better substance to maintain your habit than you can buy on the streets."

The home secretary's position has not changed since October

Home Office spokeswoman
The MPs will also reportedly propose the use of controversial "safe injecting areas", such as those seen in some continental countries.

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

A Home Office spokeswoman told the newspaper that there was nothing new in proposals to make greater use of diamorphine - so-called medical heroin.

She said: "The home secretary's position has not changed since October when he said that doctors should prescribe more drugs if that is a way to bring addicts in for treatment."

A Department of Health spokesman said that "heroin is not available on the NHS" and stresed there were no plans to make it available

"Diamorphine is currently available to a very small number of drug users prescribed by specialist GPs and we don't have any plans to change that," he said.

Think tank debate

The Observer also reports that next week's Commons Home Affairs Select Committee report will recommend that cannabis be downgraded from a Class B drug to a Class C drug, with ecstasy reclassified as a Class B drug.

Separately, a left-wing think tank is to debate whether legalisation would be the best way to conquer Britain's drugs problem.

The Foreign Policy Centre, of which Prime Minister Tony Blair is patron, will discuss whether it would be better to deal with the causes of drug abuse rather than concentrating on punishing users.

Its debate is scheduled to take place next week before the select committee report is published.

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"The government will draw a line at plans for so called shooting galleries"
See also:

19 May 02 | UK Politics
Ecstasy 'downgrade' welcomed by MP
01 Mar 02 | Education
Heroin victim's death used as warning
14 Oct 98 | Medical notes
Heroin: The facts
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