Jack Straw: "We need to keep an open mind on alternative approaches"
Prescribing heroin on the NHS may be the best way to treat the "most problematic" addicts, Jack Straw says.
The justice secretary's comments follow trials which showed big reductions in the use of street drugs and crime.
"It may be the best means of reducing the harm they do to themselves, and of stamping out the crime and disorder they inflict," the Blackburn MP said.
Writing in the Lancashire Telegraph, he says the potential benefits of trying alternative approaches are huge.
Mr Straw says he has been part of the "tough" approach in the past, which has seen a large proportion of offenders jailed after committing crimes to fund their addiction.
But he believes the overriding objective must be to reduce the harm caused by drugs, to users, their families and to the victims of crimes they commit.
"So we need to keep an open mind on alternative approaches, not dismiss them if they don't fit in with the adjective 'tough'.
The prescription of heroin is not a magic bullet - it's a drastic step.
Jack Straw, Justice Secretary
Last week it emerged that a scheme in which heroin was given to addicts in supervised clinics had led to big falls in their use of street drugs, and in crimes committed to pay for them.
More than 100 users took part in the four-year pilot in London, Brighton and Darlington, which was partly funded by the government.
They either injected heroin or received the drug's substitute, methadone. About three-quarters of those given heroin were said to have "substantially" reduced their use of street drugs.
The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA), which administers drug treatment in England, said the results were "encouraging".
Mr Straw says the prescription of heroin would only ever be applied to a minority of problematic addicts.
"The prescription of heroin is not a magic bullet. It's a drastic step," he added.