So-called success of 'shooting galleries' in Britain draws a mixed response

A pilot scheme in London where addicts can inject themselves with heroin in a special clinic appears to have reduced drug use and crime.

The injecting clinics, or 'shooting galleries' which have been in operation for about two years are aimed at hardened heroin addicts for whom conventional treatment has failed.

The scheme has so far cost the government £2.5m, and is funded by the Home Office and the Department of Health.

Clinics in Brighton and Darlington are also involved in the trial.

At the clinics a third of addicts use the heroin substitute methadone orally and a third inject methadone under supervision; the remaining third inject themselves with unadulterated heroin (diamorphine) imported from Switzerland and provided by the clinic.

Medical staff are in constant supervision and as many as 150 users are taking part in the trial.

The initial results indicate a reduction in crime, and doctors and nursing staff in London say drug use has fallen significantly.

Though the final results will not be known for another year, it appears that the lives of those on the scheme have stabilised because they are not buying from street dealers and becoming involved in crime to pay for their habit and many are enjoying better family relationships because they are no longer in and out of prison.

Professor John Strang from the National Addiction Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, says about 40% of users have quit their involvement with the street scene completely.

Professor Strang says of those who have continued, which is clearly disappointing, their crimes have gone from 40 a month to perhaps four crimes per month.

Strang says the reduction in crime though not perfect is a great deal better for them and a great deal better for society.

Those on the trial attend regular counselling sessions and regular appointments with their doctor and initial results suggest the scheme was having a profound effect on hardened heroin addicts.

Professor Strang says there had been a dramatic effect on the lives of people for whom heroin had been a daily part of their lives for 20 or 30 years.

The cost of the treatment, including providing heroin, is between £9,000 and £15,000 per patient which is three times the cost of a year's course of methadone.

The scheme has the backing of some of the police who believe heroin should be prescribed to drug addicts in order to curb crime.

Similar heroin injection schemes in Holland and Switzerland have also found some users turning away from crime.

Critics question the spending of £2.5million on heroin and nursing care by the NHS while law-abiding patients are denied life-prolonging treatment.

Regardless of a huge public outcry, Alzheimer's patients newly diagnosed with mild symptoms no longer qualify for medication despite costs of only £2.50 each day.

Critics question why so much should be spent on addicts while drugs for some types of cancer, arthritis, bone disease and the prevention of blindness in older people are being restricted.

The Taxpayers' Alliance, says giving criminals free drugs on the NHS whilst denying life-saving treatments to law-abiding citizens demonstrates a warped sense of priorities.

They believe drug users should be given help to kick their habit and lead an honest life and not be aided and abetted in their personal failings.

A spokesman for the Victims of Crime Trust says giving free Class-A drugs to addicts - many of whom will be prolific criminals - at a time when law-abiding members of the public are being forced to go to the High Court to access life-saving treatment, is wrong.

While many believe there is a need to get criminals off drugs and stop them re-offending, they say it should not be at the expense of people whose only crime is to be gravely ill.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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