Europe: Britain to Provide Heroin to Addicts, "Restricted" Home Office Brief Says

The British government is prepared to begin prescribing heroin through the National Health Service to "recidivist veteran users" after a pilot program has proven successful, according to a report in the newspaper The Independent, which cites a "restricted" briefing paper prepared by the Home Office strategic policy team. The briefing paper also suggests the licensing of heroin and cocaine sales, but the government will not go that far, The Independent said.

According to the brief, which The Independent says it has obtained a copy of, "The Home Office should consider wider rolling out of injectable heroin prescription for highly dependent users through the NHS. Given the failure of supply-side interventions to have any significant effect on the drugs market, it is worth considering a greater management of the market by wider rolling out of injectable heroin prescription for highly dependent users through the NHS."

According to the Home Office sources cited by the newspaper, only hard-core users who have not responded to methadone treatment will be eligible. "It is only going to apply to a small number of people," said a Home Office spokesman.

Home Office sources added that in Switzerland, where doctors prescribe heroin rather than methadone to such users, 26% have quit using and criminality and unemployment have decreased. Citing the Swiss experience, the brief says, "Contrary to popular belief, there is evidence that heroin does not necessarily intoxicate the user -- it can be stabilized with people living relatively normal lives."

The brief also warns that Britain is in a losing battle with drug smugglers and suggests legalizing the sale of heroin and cocaine. "There is mounting evidence of the impossibility of winning the war against drugs supply. A system of controlled availability of drugs would allow the Government to exert a much greater degree of influence over the way in which substances are used than is currently possible," the report advised. "There is a strong argument that prohibition has caused or created many of the problems associated with the use or misuse of drugs. One option for the future would be to regulate drugs differently, through either over-the-counter sales, licensed sales or doctor's prescription."

But in an Independent on Sunday editorial, the newspaper noted that the government will not move to license or otherwise regulate drug sales. "Legalising drug supply has been firmly rejected by the government because it would sanction the use of drugs," the newspaper noted. "The policy of targeting drug smugglers and dealers continues, despite the report's warning that reducing the drug supply drives up the price and increases crime."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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