The stereotypical heroin addict may be just that, according to a study of continuing heroin users who either escaped dependency altogether or managed to live controlled, productive lives while dependent on heroin. Published December 16, the study from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, Kings College, London, found there is a largely hidden population of people who use heroin without causing serious harm to themselves or others.
While most research on heroin users draws on populations in drug treatment or the clutches of the criminal justice system, this study's sample (51 in-depth interviewees and 123 people surveyed via the Internet) consisted almost entirely of people who were either working or studying, owned or rented their own homes, and had never been arrested. The users in this study also remained in good health and enjoyed full social lives, they reported.
Some respondents were long-term users but not addicted. They reported avoiding dependency by following "using rules" that limited the frequency with which they indulged. Those rules included not only avoiding everyday use, but also avoiding involvement in a "heroin scene, not injecting the drug, and not using if they couldn't afford it. Other respondents were addicted but used heroin in a controlled, stable fashion over long periods of time, limiting amount rather than frequency.
"Sustained heroin use does not inevitably lead to dependency, and that dependency will not always cause users significant problems -- particularly involvement in crime and personal degeneration," the study concluded. "We have demonstrated that, for some people, using heroin does not strip them of the ability to make conscious, rational and autonomous decisions about their drug use."
While conceding that they do not know how large the subset of controlled heroin users is among the heroin-using population, the study's authors nonetheless see policy implications in their findings. The notion of controlled use could be applied in drug treatment and harm reduction settings, encouraging users to see themselves less as addict victims and more as people in control of their own lives. It should also cause policymakers to rethink laws criminalizing drug possession, they authors suggested, although with little hope that will happen.
Europe: Hungarian Paramedics Agree to Keep Police Away from Drug
The Hungarian National Ambulance Service has agreed to instruct its paramedics to no longer call the police when dealing with overdoses and other drug emergencies, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union reported (HCLU). The policy change comes as the result of a campaign led by the HCLU, which has emerged as a leading force for drug law reform in the East European nation.
Following frequent complaints from drug users that paramedics providing medical care would turn them in to the police, the HCLU convinced the ambulance service that its practice not only violated patient privacy rights, but also had harmful social results. Drug users feared to call for help in emergencies for fear of arrest, even in cases where the lack of fast action could result in death, the HCLU argued.
While the ambulance service officially changed its policy with an official order in July instructing local services to not automatically call police in drug-related emergencies, the policy change was apparently slow to sink in with some paramedics. In one recent case, the HCLU informed the National Ambulance Service that policemen were waiting for one overdose victim when he arrived at the hospital. That complaint bought an official reprimand for the regional service and a clarification that paramedics must respect the July policy change and respect the privacy of drug users in the future.