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Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 06:28 GMT 07:28 UK
'Legalise drugs' says ex-police chief
Switzerland and Australia pioneered legalised heroin
A former senior police officer has said he wants heroin legalised in a bid to reduce street crime in Wales.

Ex-Gwent Police chief constable Francis Wilkinson said he wants Wales to follow the model in Switzerland and make heroin available on prescription for hardened addicts.

Francis Wilkinson
Ex-Gwent Police chief constable Francis Wilkinson
He said it would be safer for addicts, would reduce street crime carried out in order to feed habits and would eventually reduce the number of heroin addicts.

He gives his views to BBC Wales current affairs series Week In, Week Out which is to broadcast on BBC One Wales on Wednesday.

The views could prove controversial amongst many who have suffered at the hands of heroin.

Currently, users cannot guarantee the quality of the drug, which is illegal in the UK.

Drug risks

They run the risk of an overdose, poisoning or HIV infection through dirty needles.

Long-term users may suffer from collapsed veins and breathing difficulties.

Heroin needles
Some addicts use crime to fund their habit
But doctors can prescribe to addicts methadone, which works in the same way as the drug but has a limited euphoric reaction.

The dosage of the substitute is lowered over time in order to wean a user off the drug.

However, in 1997, Department of Health figures show that methadone was responsible for the deaths of 421 people.

Addicts have created a vast methadone black market by selling on their doses for as little as 2.

Legalised schemes

Week In, Week Out has been to the Cynon Valley in south Wales to witness the devastation caused to addicts, their families and the wider community by heroin.

It has also visited Switzerland to look at a programme under which addicts can legally inject heroin in clinics under the supervision of nurses in order to live a normal life.

In May 2001, Sydney in Australia opened its first legal heroin injecting room - dubbed a "shooting gallery" by addicts - to where users can bring their equipment and inject the drug under medical supervision in a booth.

Mr Wilkinson has support in Gwent for legalisation of drugs.

Newport West MP Paul Flynn is a well-known supporter of the decriminalisation of cannabis.

And the former police chief's call comes as Cardiff Central MP Jon Owen Jones is due to put a private member's bill before the Commons on the legalisation of cannabis.

The former Welsh Health Minister, who has confessed to smoking cannabis, is unlikely to succeed in his bid to legalise the drug.

Week In, Week Out is broadcast on BBC One Wales at 2235 on Wednesday.

See also:

12 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australian opposition backs heroin trial
14 Oct 98 | Medical notes
22 Feb 00 | J-M
05 Jul 01 | Health
Cannabis 'not medical panacea'
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