Page last updated at 10:27 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 11:27 UK

Expert in heroin prescribing call

Heroin
A project in England cut addicts use of street heroin

A drugs expert has called for a scheme where addicts are given heroin to be trialled in Scotland.

A pilot project in England indicated that giving addicts heroin in supervised clinics reduced their use of street drugs and reduced crime.

The Scottish Drugs Forum director said the move could help the "Trainspotting generation" of problem drug users.

However, another drugs expert has said services should instead focus on helping addicts come off heroin.

More than 100 users took part in the pilot - part funded by the government - in London, Brighton and Darlington.

About three-quarters of those given heroin were said to have "substantially" reduced their use of street drugs.

The SDF director David Liddell said those results, together with findings from similar schemes in Europe, meant there was now "overwhelming" evidence in favour of having such a project.

He told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland: "We've been very supportive of seeing a Scottish pilot.

"What we're talking about is a very targeted heroin prescribing programme for a very small number of the 50,000 problem drug users who have failed to engage in existing treatment over many years.

Start providing people with heroin and their recovery could be a long way down the road
Professor Neil McKeganey

"And potentially with this group, you might describe them as the Trainspotting generation, who are actually facing death if they are not provided with appropriate treatment.

"So it is a way of starting the road to recovery and engaging with these hard to reach individuals who otherwise are facing a very bleak future indeed."

Mr Liddell conceded some people would have a moral objection to providing addicts with heroin, and added another issue was the cost of the scheme - about £15,000 per addict per year.

But he insisted: "If we can reduce crime, if we can improve an individual's health and improve their relationships and in the long-term move them very much towards recovery, that's something we should certainly look at."

However, Professor Neil McKeganey, from the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University, argued that drug services should be focused on helping addicts get clean.

'Rightfully cautioned'

Prof McKeganey, also speaking on Good Morning Scotland, said: "Start providing people with heroin and their recovery could be a long way down the road, they may be on that many, many years to come."

He claimed that many doctors were "rightfully very cautious" about giving addicts heroin.

And he argued: "It's enormously expensive, it runs the risk of being a road from which it's very difficult to withdraw - once you start somebody on it it's very difficult to know at what point you can actually bring them back off it."

He claimed Scottish-based research had found that the most effective treatment to get addicts off drugs was residential rehab.

However Prof McKeganey said: "We provide scandalously little of that service in Scotland."



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