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Author Topic: Legal heroin prescribed to hundreds of UK drug users  (Read 1142 times)

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Legal heroin prescribed to hundreds of UK drug users
« on: September 04, 2019, 12:40:05 AM »

‘Saved from a horrible fate’: Legal heroin prescribed to hundreds of UK drug users, figures reveal

17 August 2019

Hundreds of people addicted to heroin in the UK are benefitting from a free legal supply of the drug, new figures show.

The Independent can reveal that 280 people received a prescription for diamorphine – medical-grade heroin – in 2017-18, via a freedom of information request to Public Health England (PHE) by Release, a drugs charity offering legal advice and support.

Under PHE guidelines, diamorphine is usually offered as a last resort after other forms of treatment, such as methadone and buprenorphine, have proven unsuccessful.

“I’ve seen firsthand how diamorphine could help people recover to the point where they were able to work, experience liberation from a cycle of repeated criminal justice involvement, be present for their families, and have hope where previously there was none,” said Dr Prun Bijral, medical director at the UK’s largest third sector drug treatment provider, Change Grow Live.

But the treatment is “under threat” due to severe cuts to drug services and the planned removal of the Public Health Grant, said Niamh Eastwood, chief executive of Release, which often works with people who fear having their prescription removed.

“Any decision to remove this treatment could lead to more people dying,” said Ms Eastwood, referring to Thursday’s figures showing drug-related deaths remained at the highest level since records began, with a 16 per cent spike in 2018.

The threat of a diamorphine prescription being removed could cause “untold damage” to those reliant upon one, said Ms Eastwood. “It can create a sense of fear and insecurity and can cause significant distress to individuals in this position.”

She warned the removal of an individual’s treatment could jeopardise their employment, and created a “real risk” of these previously treatment-aversive drug users returning to street heroin.

The UK has provided heroin users with diamorphine since 1926. Often referred to as the British System, the practice was the country’s main form of treatment until 1967, during which period the number of known heroin users rarely rose above 1,000.

“We led the world in providing diamorphine under the British System; a pragmatic and reasoned approach to a serious issue,” said Dr Bijral. “Diamorphine is just another opioid medication, used in every hospital, every day, and has been an essential medication for well over a century.”

While hundreds of people have received the drug under this legal framework ever since, the British System was largely phased out in the late 1960s – a move the then Home Office drugs chief Bing Spear branded “an unmitigated disaster” in a book detailing his time in office.

The “Trainspotting” heroin epidemic that followed “was a direct result of gifting the market to organised crime”, said Neil Woods, who spent 14 years as an undercover detective and is now chairman of LEAP UK, a coalition of law enforcement figures calling for an end to the war on drugs.

“There was no association between drugs and crime at all before the British System ended,” Mr Woods said, referring to the tactic of encouraging heroin users to turn others onto the drug in order to fund their own habit. “When heroin was controlled by doctors there was no incentive to find new customers.”

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