The head of the British Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) called this week for addicts to be prescribed heroin to prevent them from committing crimes to feed their habits. ACPO head Ken Jones, the former chief constable of Sussex, also admitted that current law enforcement strategies are failing when it comes to a "hardcore minority" of heroin users.
Jones is one of the most senior police officials ever to advocate the use of prescription heroin in the effort to reduce the harm from black market use of the drug. According to research in Great Britain, heroin users commit an average of 432 crimes a year.
Studies in Switzerland and the Netherlands, where prescription heroin programs are underway, have found reductions in crimes committed by participants. While Britain has some 40,000 registered heroin addicts using methadone (and an estimated 327,000 "problem drug users" of cocaine or heroin), only a few hundred are currently receiving prescribed heroin as part of a pilot program. That's not enough, said Jones.
"I am not in any shape or form a legalizer, but what I am concerned with is that we have to shape up to some tough realities," he said. "We don't have enough treatment places for those who want to go on them. What we need is a cross-party consensus which considers the overwhelming public view to be tough on the roots of drugs, as well as treating its victims," he argued.
"I was a drugs officer and we have to be realistic," Jones continued. "There is a hardcore minority who are not in any way shape or form anxious to come off drugs. They think 'I am going to go out there and steal, rob, burgle and get the money to buy it'. What are we going to do -- say 'OK we are going to try and contain this by normal criminal justice methods' and fail, or are we going to look at doing something different? Start being a bit more innovative. It is about looking at things in a different way without turning away completely from the current position."
While up until the 1960s, British doctors regularly prescribed heroin to addicts, that practice ended under US pressure and because of scandals related to loose prescribing. It is time to go back to the good old days, Jones said. "There are junkies who are alive today who would have been dead now," he said. "Their lives are stable, yes, their addiction is being maintained, but far better they are being maintained than them trying to get their fix off the street from crime. Heroin is an incredible stimulator of crime and I think we are foolish if we don't acknowledge that."