Initial results from a pilot heroin maintenance program in London, Brighton, and Darlington suggest it has reduced drug use and crime, researchers said over the weekend. In the program, which is funded by the Home Office and the Department of Health, some 150 hard-core heroin users are given either oral methadone, injected methadone, or injected heroin.
According to trial leader Professor John Strang of the National Addiction Center, about 40% of participants had left the street drug scene behind. "Of those who have continued, which obviously is a disappointment, it goes down from every day to about four days per month," he told the BBC.
"Their crimes, for example, have gone from 40 a month to perhaps four crimes per month.
"The reduction in crime is not perfect but is a great deal better for them and crucially a great deal better for society."
While the findings are preliminary -- final results are not expected for another year -- they are in line with similar findings from heroin maintenance programs in Holland and Switzerland. In both countries, researchers have reported a reduction in criminality by program participants.
In the British program, hardened addicts were reported to be leading more normal lives and enjoying better family relationships because they were no longer going in and out of prison. The annual cost per patients is about $18,000 to $30,000, about three times the cost of methadone maintenance, but presumably much cheaper than having users acquire their drugs on the black market, along with the criminality associated with black market drug use.
"With this treatment we're looking at having a very secure way of providing the treatment which enables the patient to break out of their addiction and is also very safe to the community," said Strang. "What we're looking at doing is enabling people both to quit their involvement with crime and to quit their involvement with street heroin use."