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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 February 2005, 15:59 GMT
Your Views: Living on heroin
Here are some of your thoughts on research findings which said it was possible to live a "normal" life while being a regular long-term heroin user.

Heroin and needle
I lived, what I thought , was a very normal life while taking Herion, and then Methadone. I continued to hold down a job, feed my wife and kids, and pay the bills. Ok, so this all sounds pretty normal, however, we never went on overseas holidays, or for that matter more than a couple of hours away from contacts. I was once sent overseas for my job, and had Viceptone, the oill version of Methadone. I could not prolong my business trip as requested because I had to return home. I had to make up a story that a family member was ill. This was not uncommon, you wouldn't believe how many family members I had. I have now been clean for 5 years after a clinic in Harrogate put me to sleep and provided me with Namexine (opiate inhibiter). I still take Namexine. Over the last 5 years I really have lived a normal life, which includes weekends, evenings, holidays abroad, and work. Normal living on drugs is not possible, it's bearable.
anon, Switzerland

Many long-term studies of heroin use in a 'normal' lifestyle have been undertaken, although during and before the 1920s when most opiates became illegal in the USA. Until then problem users were scarce, prohibition and the necessary criminality surrounding it (as no prohibition ever has been or ever will be successful) causing the misery that is now simplistically associated with 'drugs'. The branding of an academically sound report as 'irresponsible' is deplorable - an honest assessment of the reality surrounding all drugs, illegal or otherwise, is what is needed most.
Mr Mackey, Leicester, UK

Would you want a surgeon operating on you who was on heroin or a train driver or the police or your doctor or an airline pilot - if it's so right then we shouldn't be worried, should we.
Si, London

At school I was subject to the 'just say no' campaign, which basically told kids, drug will wreck your life and kill you. Most of us believed it at the time. In later years I saw friends taking soft drugs, holding down jobs and having fun. I realised I'd been lied to, not all drugs were as dangerous as we'd been led to believe. It wasn't long before I joined in. I've never believed a word the government has said about drugs since. We should tell people the truth, regardless of whose personal view it supports. Lie to people, and lose their trust forever.
anon, manchester

I'm looking forward to reading the whole report. Your article states that the heroin users were not interviewed directly so how were the data collected and how were other symptoms of addiction - lying and self deception - accounted for?
Maurice, Burton upon Trent, England

I think the comments are certainly irresponsible and the term "normal life" is an argument in itself. As many others who have posted on here I have seen how it can wreck lives not just of the users but of families too. The NHS should not be wasting money on users, if your weak minded enough to take the stuff in the first place it should be down to you to sort it out, natural selection, the kid who swallows the most marbles looses.
Dave, Lancashire, UK

I know someone who fits into their findings. Works hard, pays his way. His biggest problem is buying 'tainted' gear that could kill him. Legalise it for doctors to give it to him for supervised consumption and he would survive, the dealers would go out of business and new addicts wouldn't be able to get it.
cook, uk

The point of this research was not to say that EVERYONE taking heroin can lead a normal life but to highlight the fact that there is a "hidden" population of people who do this. The problems of drug abuse in the UK are already well-known, but what this research is trying to do is to make people aware that not all heroin users fit the stereotype - to the general public/workmates they may appear to be completely normal.
Zelda Hope, Penrith, UK

I don't really understand why this report was even carried out, using Heroin is illegal. It doesn't matter if it makes people commit petty crime of if it's the favourite substance of Nobel prize winners, its illegal so what's the point in finding out if it's ok to use??
Gemma Hyde, Swindon

Firstly, we cannot blame researchers for the results they generate so criticism of them is unfair. Secondly, pure heroin is cheaper, and less addictive than the methadone used to heroin addiction. There have been studies carried out that show this. Those treated with safe, pure and carefully controlled doses of heroin show better psychological, social, and health outcomes than those treated with methadone. Those treated with methadone are more likely to commit crime and seek out illegal heroin than those in the heroin treatment groups.
Dr Karl Lynch, Belfast N. Ireland

I have two problems with this report - one that it is based on subjective information of the addicts themselves who are more than likely to have a positive view. It appears to take an unreasonably small sample and then make some dubious assertions based upon that. Worse though is the deliberate misinterpretation of the report by the press - how can the press interpret this report as saying heroin could be used "risk free"? Poor quality research combined with poor quality journalism is the real problem here. Who is the most irresponsible? My vote goes to the press for failing to apply some basic common sense.
Ian Spencer, Solihull, UK

I can't believe how irresponsible and insignificant this study is. It would have been more meaningful to study how the vast majority (about 99.99999% of addicts) do NOT cope. Even with the 126 people studied, who's to say that they won't die from their next fix? What happens if they don't have their next fix and get withdrawal symptoms? Will their family and career not suffer? Or, if they lose their jobs and don't have the income to buy heroin? In my view, these people are living on the edge - one tiny upset and their so-called stable lifestyle separates them from the typical majority of addicts - homeless and forced to steal to sustain their habit. A very close family member is an addict. He just about copes. He's not homeless, he doesn't break the law, but his life has changed dramatically. He's severely underweight, can't participate in lively conversation, doesn't socialise any more. He's managed his addiction for about 10 years now (we all thought he was just into cannabis for ages) but his life is wasted. He was a bright intelligent young adult, he now can hardly finish a sentence now.
dawn, london

I remember a television programme about 15 years ago concerning a 'professional' couple in Holland who were regular heroin users. They appeared to be in control of their habit and their lives. I would love to know what happened to them and if they still manage their situation as comfortably after years of patterned behaviour or whether they succumbed to the drug or indeed if they simply changed their lifestyle patterns. Not being involved on the criminal aspects of drug abuse would have certainly given them more choice over what path they took.
mark, halesowen

This report is total trash!! I've seen people change into very sorry states over a short period, and that's if they're the lucky ones that don't end up dead. Yes, you might get a good hit from it but it's a horrible nasty drug that sucks the soul out of you, if you doubt that just visit your local Pharmacy any day of the week and see the kind of person it makes you!
Ross, Aberdeen

The report simply makes a statement of it's findings, what I find annoying is that there is always someone ready to politicise scientific findings, do they really suggest that we should suppress results of studies because we fear of the consequences? That is censorship.
Ian, UK

No-one so far seems to have actually read the report and thus the comments are based upon second hand information. Heroin use is not new, in the 18th century lots of folk used laudanum (heroin), but by oral or inhalation routes, since syringes didn't exist. Most Victorian users were not the poor, but middle/upper classes and held down jobs and had families. Then the addictive properties were not fully understood, we do know the risks now. The authors would not be encouraging use of this drug, but the observation that a normal life is possible in a minority of drug users should be a catalyst for a better debate on how we deal with drug addiction in our society. Heroin when bought from unscrupulous dealers by poverty stricken addicts continues to be VERY dangerous and this report won't make a claim otherwise
David, Reading

I think we have a tendency to see illegal drugs as somehow different to the legal ones (namely caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol). Until a few years ago there was a popular perception that all alcoholics were dirty men on the streets, but that's quite clearly changed, and alcoholism is seen as a disease; plenty of people hold down good jobs as well as being alcoholics, but that doesn't mean they like it. The difference with heroin (and other addictive, illegal drugs) is that the illegality causes us to label users as bad. The same could be said for homosexuality pre-1969. I'm gay, and I've never been treated with discrimination, but while homosexual acts were illegal there were ridiculously reactionary public images of gay men. People were quite surprised as they began to learn that 'ordinary people' could be gay. Rather like the reaction to this new research about heroin.
Gareth Edwards, Exeter, Devon

Drug addicts. If they were stupid enough to go down that road, then they can stay down that road. They ruin so many more lives than their own, but being the selfish, self centred people they are they don't care about that. Give them the biggest "hit" of their lives and finish them off, they're just a drain on society anyway.
A tax payer, Scotland

The report is not in itself irresponsible, the uses to which people will put the report to push their own social and political agendas upon us will be irresponsible. However that is not the fault of the researchers.
James Scobbie, Scotland

It is nice to see a study has taken Brass eye seriously. We all know a Heroin overdose is fatal in the short term...but what about the long term effects?
Tom Nixon, Hemel Hempstead

Heroin is an awful drug, yet I am glad this study has been truthful in reporting that, contrary to popular belief, not all drug users are morons. I have been a regular drug user for many years. I have never used heroin, due to it being so addictive, but smoke cannabis every day and take ecstasy almost every weekend. I have graduated from university and have a good job. I work hard and what I spend my money on is my choice. I am not a weight on society in any way. There are many others like me. I'm glad to see that some people are honestly saying that some people are adult enough to make their own choices and take drugs responsibly.
lectro, glasgow

It's about time these results were unearthed and published. The traditional image of a 'Junkie' huddled in a shop doorway, plotting to steal your car are somewhat misleading. I had a habit for 15 years. I held down a well paid job and supported a household. My expenditure was around the equivalent of two long haul holidays a year and I paid my taxes. Heroin addiction is a dependency which can be treated. Proof is the fact that I have been clean for some ten years. I find the knee jerk horror reaction to those with a vested interest in portraying heroin addicts as high maintenance, high dependency losers, frankly disgusting and not at all helpful to a frank debate.
shearer, Newcastle, England

I think it is possible to live a normal life while participating in the use of any drug which does not instantly kill on consumption. The difference between an addict's version and a non addict's version of normal is a wealth of lies and deceitful behaviour. These, in effect, create a very abnormal life for those who are unlucky enough to have to deal with the 'normal' life of an addict. I propose that further research is carried out on at least one member of the 126 users studied to find out about the quality of the 'normal' life of an addict.
Deborah, Glasgow

I am sure it is possible to maintain a 'normal' life and use heroin, and it may be less harmful than alcohol but that doesn't stop being an addict which, as an ex-smoker, I remember to be a miserable mental state of agonising over my lack of control over my addiction and by extension, my life.
anon, London

Asking people who are not in treatment for their addiction to find out if they are doing okay on heroin seems pretty pointless. I work on a nicotine cessation programme. 70% of smokers want to quit and they will tell you how much it costs, how they worry about their health and the health of their family, how they're sick of the smell and of waking up every morning desperate for a cigarette. If however, you ask the 30% of smokers who don't want to quit, they will tell you that smoking is cool, that they enjoy it and that is not affecting their life in any negative way. Obviously those who are "happy" with their addictions are not going to report negative aspects of their lifestyle. The problem is that, as with so many addiction, the group who are having immense problems with their habits is much larger than the group of people who are not, and passage from the former group to the latter is infinitely more difficult than from the latter to the former, which is a natural progression.
B, Scotland

The total cost to the country of heroin addiction is huge, both human and financial. However most of this is due to prohibition. How much does it cost to maintain the people who cannot kick the habit by supplying them with clean and pure heroin as opposed to the resources needed for the police, criminal justice system and NHS. The answer: peanuts
steve, Stockport, UK

One of my school friends tragically died of a heroin overdose last year. So it is highly irresponsible to say that it is safe to take on a regular basis. It only takes a slightly higher intake one day for the serious effects to kick in. If death is likely at all, then this should be seriously considered by the researchers and not belittled.
Ray Spencer, Inverness, UK

We have been here before. Thousands of First World War soldiers lived out their lives normally whilst addicted to Morphiate painkillers, which they became addicted to whilst being treated for their injuries. Personally I'd prefer to treat modern day addicts if only for the associated drop in crime.
Chris Sheriff, London, UK

The reaction of SAD indicates why it has been such a massive failure. Facts cannot be irresponsible. What is irresponsible is trying to stop a behaviour by lying about it. This can only undermine the message.
Duncan Hothersall, Edinburgh, Scotland

Once again, the knee jerk reaction - someone publishes a decent piece of research, with clear indications of scope, and someone who doesn't like it makes a fuss about it in the press, leading to misinformation and lots of people shouting about their own opinions and experiences. The report is very clear, it's just the media dumbing down the messages again.
Nic Brough, London, uk

Take it from me, from personal experience, that you can keep a life going whilst permanently on heroin, hash, alcohol, downers or anything else, but you cannot fully live life, as it takes you away from a reality that helps to connect with important people and issues around you. This report or the interpreted message is irresponsible as the majority of heroin users in Glasgow are not exactly integrating their personal and painful addiction into a life comprising a well-paid job and a satisfying and settled home-life. Drugs are great as milestone/ritual experiences in life like in other cultures (especially LSD and mind expanders - who saw the BBC Tribe programme) but our culture has made drugs a thing of status, leisure and punishment and self-loathing. As the song goes, 'the drugs don't work, they just make you worse', and I can tell you that this is definitely true. Drugs don't themselves generally kill people, but helping people to 'come off' drugs may require the legal supply of pure drugs as part of this process and banning drugs whilst selling tobacco and alcohol legally was doomed to cause confusion and chaos. People need a reason not to depend on drugs and the links to other social factors must be made but people will always want to get high and we will never change that. The current debate is paranoid, ill-informed and dangerous for those that need us most.
AG, Scotland

Regarding Paul Johnson's comment - people who play on railway lines don't always get killed.....
Max Lewis, Cardiff, Wales

Instead of the patronising concern about "sending the wrong message" we should be concerned over actually facing the truth on this issue. Heroin (the chemical substance) does not automatically kill - it's the same substance that has been used as a medical anaesthetic for decades. The practices and lifestyles around heroin addiction kill - sharing needles, impure supply, and a criminal monopoly on supply. The research points out that heroin addiction can be managed without, necessarily, meaning the stereotypical descent into crime. That does not equate to saying heroin addiction is good for you or society. What it does imply is that including long-term managed supply is potentially a viable option for the medical treatment of some addicts, rather than the current irrational policies of forcing addicts into the practices which do kill them. We should allow this option to be explored (as used to be the policy), rather than allowing the sound-bite seeking politicians to over-simplify this debate and condemn addicts to despair and death.
David, Gloucestershire

If we ask why this heroin is available in the first place, it seems to begin with some very poor farmers in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. Next there is a layer of violent criminals who control the international trade. Finally, there are the small pushers and end-users. The first group is punished regularly - destroyed crops may leave them destitute, and the alternatives, eg 'handicrafts', are rarely viable. The last group are also punished severely by our legal system. The middle group seem to remain quite unscathed, for unfathomable reasons. Now heroin is probably the best painkiller known to man, far surpassing in efficacy the chemical derivatives used in our hospitals. If developed countries set an example by purchasing it for such legal uses, the farmers would have no need to get involved in the criminal trafficking system. Why don't we? Ask the pharmaceutical companies, and the governments which defend their interests.
Marilyn McMurtrie, Al A! in, UAE

I've been using hard drugs for years, including heroin, crack and the rest of the A's. I have a post graduate degree, a well paid management job, a fiancée, a daughter, a mortgage and live in middle england. I've never stolen anything, not even pens from work! The "Drugs are bad" message isn't realistic. Nor is claiming that any research that finds otherwise is 'irresponsible'. This country's attitude to drugs has done nothing to dissuade people from taking them or help those who need and want help. I dream of a sensible drugs policy, where I can seek out and get treatment without retribution, but I won't hold my breath.
Anon, Northants

I can't fathom how this type of research can be viewed as irresponsible. All it says is that people can live a normal life whilst taking heroin - it doesn't say that this is a desirable way to live. Surely ensuring a clean supply for addicts would cut down on many of the problems associated with heroin use? Drug prohibition doesn't stop drug-taking; it just increases the amount of rubbish on the streets, in both soft and hard drugs.
Stephanie, Edinburgh, Scotland

It's the truth, and the truth will out. From alcoholics, a drug as pernicious as any street drug, to the modern crack/crank junkie, if they have money and an otherwise stable life, they function in society.
Donald Cormack, arlinton texas usa

Most people become hooked on heroin because of a problem such as family breakdown and heroin is a fantastic anti depressant. That it is highly addictive is its problem. Heroin junkies, the ones who rob and steal and prostitute themselves are by and large broken people. As a society we should help them by providing heroin free at shooting galleries with counselling and health care available. Many of these people would then be able to get back on track and lead normal lives. This would be so much cheaper for all of us and put the gangsters out of work. Also, if we flew the heroin straight here from Afghanistan then we could give the farmers a fair price and cut out all the terrorists and gangsters along the whole supply chain. For many people heroin is not a recreational drug it is a medicine, if they need it like a heart patient needs warfarin, lets give it to them.
Joe, Manchester

I hold down what too many would be regarded as an aspirational, well paid job. I have a variety of interests, and yet, most weekends I shall take cocaine recreationally. Sometimes in large quantities. Many people have a similar approach to heroin. Whilst heroin is more likely to lead to addiction and physical dependence, this report highlights the importance of breaking down the generalisations and stereotypes so often applied to drug users. Of course, the most damaging drug of all is our old friend alcohol. But for a variety of abstract historical reasons, that is legal. What it is not, is less damaging or habit-forming.
Jamie, London

Drugs, if made legal, are not likely to be subsidised by Government, they are more likely to be taxed to the hilt. Drugs will have to be provided by registered private companies, and we will have to decide who is liable for deaths caused by their products - either directly (overdose) or indirectly (via psychosis, diminished abilities etc.). I suppose currently we blame the user, but aren't 1000's trying to change the law with regard to making tobacco companies responsible for the results of their cigarettes? It is interesting to see that seeing as the latest drug retraction by Merck has caused them to set aside over $600m for damages. Can such potentially harmful chemicals really be an attractive proposition for big companies seeing we know so little about long term damage caused by even cannabis? I imagine prices will have to loaded with 'just in case' levies too. We already have two drugs legalised in this country - namely alcohol and nicotine - and look at the mess those two have created. If you think that legalising drugs will not have any of these problems, both health and social, then you have got to be naive. Answer me this, as a society that chooses to legalise drugs, how many deaths per year should we accept because of our new law? (Do not forget to include those killed by negligence of drug users (i.e. DUI).

Why is heroin now illegal? It used to be perfectly legal to use it - as did cocaine.
N Ball, Newcastle

Having being a reformed junkie I know at the time I thought I could but looking back I can see that was not true

I think this report is ludicrous. I have a cousin who is dependant on Heroin and it has ruined not just his life but his mother & father. Drug users need help and support to help come off these addictions, then and only then can they start a normal life again!
Nathan Burrows, Livingston, West Lothian

What purpose does the outcome of this study serve, as it is common knowledge that there are "functioning" addicts in every sphere of society. The government would be better advised to finance research into the causes of addiction.
john clugston, london

How is this news? Ben Elton, in "Stark" had as a central character an aristo who was a heroin addict who made the same point as this report is making. Unfortunately all drug users have been tarred with the "zombie junkie" label that the media use in their usual pejorative way - it's no more accurate to say that the denizens of the fourth estate are irresponsible, muck-stirring scandal merchants.
Wilko, Edinburgh

Your local pharmacist is the largest drug dealer in your area, with the approval of the doctors, ALL sorts of uppers and downers, there are supposed to be many more people addicted to prescription drugs than illegal ones. Does that make it all right? Then of course there are over the counter remedies. There is also a website called Overcount for people with problems with OTC medicines and it has many thousands of participants.
anon, england

Drug addiction is a serious problem and not an easy one to solve. It just seems to me that prevention should be more important. What is making people turn to drugs? How can we address those issues?
AS, London

I've taken drugs almost everyday for the last 10 years and would consider myself 'normal' and a success in my chosen career!
Scott, London

The history of opiate use in this country makes interesting reading, we are at a low point at present. In Victorian times virtually the entire population of fenland were Laudnam addicts. It was used to mask malaria IIRC. After the US civil war there was a problem with morphine addiction amongst returning soldiers etc. There was also a problem after WW1, heroin was developed for use as a cure for morphine addiction!
Dave, england

Until about 1971 heroin could be obtained on prescription. At that time apparently the number of addicts in Britain numbered just a few hundred: there was no pressure on the young to take it, because there was no profit to be made from selling it. Why do we not return to this system, or to a system of 'licensed users' as with other potentially dangerous items (cars, for example)? Ironically the effects of methodone seem to be much more harmful than those of clean heroin: it would therefore make sense to use it to wean addicts off, rather than Methadone. Unless the powers-that-be deliberately want to give addicts a hard time to prove a point.
Anon, U.K.

"If by 'normal life' these researchers mean running up tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, losing your home and all your friends, being forced to live and beg on the streets, selling drugs to fund your habit, then eventually catching Hepatitis or HIV, and later dying due to shooting up a dodgy batch of Heroin, then they're absolutely correct" - This comment by Matt in Brighton illustrates a major problem in current attitudes towards drug use. Matt has clearly missed the point of the study, and it is views such as these that serve only to aggravate the stigma surrounding recreational drug use. Pay attention and the world would be a better place.
J, Glasgow

Of course, as long as taking a drug is illegal only those who get into serious problems are going to be "visible". Consequently, we can have no real idea what proportion of drug users lead normal lives.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

Clearly, the fact that the users surveyed are not in treatment means that they're a different group than those who are. I would take a shrewd guess that most are well educated (both formally and otherwise), from financially comfortable backgrounds, and have stable, loving support networks of equally well informed, financially comfortable family and friends (whether or not their family and friends are aware of the addiction). To point out that it is POSSIBLE for drug users to live decent lives is perfectly reasonable. That such information causes such violent reactions is unfortunate. Understanding the range of problems and experiences of users - from perfectly ordinary lives to an utter nightmare - is vital to creating a sane attitude to dealing with drug abuse. Compare historical shifts in drug abuse demographics, and it is clear that the experience of drug addiction has as much to do with class, social mores, opportunities in life, and education as character or morality. Drug abuse will be with us under any circumstances; the "war on drugs" has historically taken a difficult situation and made it exponentially worse. We need to ditch the moralising and get on with creating reasonable and effective ways of minimising the harm done to the individual and society as a whole through educating ourselves and not flinching from the facts when they don't suit our political agendas.
Kaz, Briton in NJ, USA

This information in this report is not new. This has been know for some years and a programme where by heroin users were helped off "street heron" by proscribed pure heroin (i.e. not cut with other substances) had very positive results on the South coast of England. The Health problems associated with Heroin tend to come from how the product is sold on the street, in fact heron was legally prescribed in the UK until the late 50s or so. During the study in England, house breaking and other drug related crime dropped by over 20% and the programme was supported by the police.
Ben Watson, Edinburgh

Interesting the number of admitted users appearing here, they can use a pc, they are at work or the library. Non-stereotypical junkies. Read an interesting book by Eric Detzler "confessions of a modern opium eater". Started using in the late sixties went through a low period and then got himself sorted by growing his own opium poppies. He went on to be a Welfare worker, department head in Oregon. He was of the opinion it was the illegality that caused most of the problems.
anon, england

Controlled heroin use 'possible'
02 Feb 05 |  Scotland
Heroin use report 'irresponsible'
02 Feb 05 |  Scotland

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