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Call to prescribe heroin on NHS

Heroin should be prescribed on the NHS to help wean addicts off the drug and drive down crime rates, a nursing leader has claimed.

"I do believe in heroin prescribing," said General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Dr Peter Carter, speaking in a personal capacity after a debate on the issue at the RCN's annual conference. "The fact is heroin is very addictive. People who are addicted so often resort to crime, to steal to buy the heroin.

"It obviates the need for them to steal. It might take a few years but I think people will understand," he said. "If you are going to get people off heroin then in the initial stages we have to have proper heroin prescribing services.

"Critics say you are encouraging drug addiction but the reality is that these people are addicts and they are going to do it anyway."

During the debate at the Bournemouth conference, several nurses offered support to the idea, but Gail Brooks from the RCN's UK safety representatives committee said: "Where would this stop? Cannabis, cocaine, crack cocaine ... other substances?

"If you do this for heroin do you have to do this for every other drug out there? Can our NHS afford this?"

While the number of heroin addicts needing treatment has fallen in recent years, almost 200,000 people receive methadone each year.

Copyright © Press Association 2010

Royal College of Nursing

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"I believe we need to find the root cause of the addiction, as stated below - but to 'give it to those who need it' - are we saying that drug users are not as deserving of treatment when they have a problem as someone who has cancer is? I agree with the concept, and agree with all the other positive statements that have been made regarding prescribing heroin" - Sarah Bayles, North East

"I absolutely agree. I have some experience as a custody nurse and the social implications of drug addiction are enormous, and are well documented by Helen Fryer below.  Most burglaries, muggings and petty crime are carried out by addicts desperate for their next fix. The police have estimated that without drugs, 66% of all crime would not be committed
in the first place. Whilst we do comparatively little to stop the
recruitment of children at the school gates, who are lured by the 'glamour' of risk in dabbling with drugs, I feel we are duty bound to do as much as a society as we can to minimise the harm these youngsters will face in the future. I have not met an addict yet who isn't desperate to stop, who regrets taking those first drugs and who is miserable to the point of hopelessness. These are our young people! Drug abuse affects all classes, not just the poor; yet it is the poor who are least likely to be able to book into expensive, private rehab - a reserve only for the rich and famous. A fully supported programme with GPs, specialist nurses, the family and the addict is a realistic option that can only benefit society as a whole" - Name and address supplied

"If we could give heroin to registered addicts, not only could we use clean needles and discuss coming off on a regular basis; crime would be massively reduced; they wouldn't need to recruit more addicts from school playgrounds in order to support their own habit (our children would be safer). They would hang out less with drug users. The black market would be massively reduced. Farmers in Afghanistan could sell their product legally for a fair price rather than to drug lords and gun runners, the positive repercussions would be global. Heroin has always been used in British hospitals, when necessary it is the most effective analgesia of all. The saving in police time will pay for cancer drugs over and over again" - Helen Fryer, Hastings

"Some years ago I was looking after a patient, and his wife who was a pharmacy assistant talked about this. I am going back some 6 years and she was a retired lady. Way back then she thought addicts should be able to get the drugs px by their GP. At the time I was horrified but the more I thought about it the more I thought how much sense it would make. It says can the NHS afford it but if you group together the cost to all services that drug addicts cost not counting the cost to all families involved I think we would safe a vast amount of money. I fully support this. There would need to be a fully supported programme of care" - T.Carol Atkin, Yorkshire

"I don't agree. Find out the root cause of the addiction. If we're going to have heroin prescribed [again], make it for the people who need it, cancer/chemotherapy patients" - Name and address supplied