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Middle East: Tel Aviv Seeks to Begin Heroin Maintenance Program

The Israeli city of Tel Aviv is moving to establish a pilot heroin maintenance program for older addicts who have proven resistant to recovery. Then the city's existing opioid maintenance programs, which now offer methadone and subutex, will have one more option in dealing with hardcore heroin users.

According to the Tel Aviv News, the city's social services division has formulated the program and the city has already drafted a position paper in support of the program. According to the plan, the heroin will be dispensed at carefully monitored clinics that will also provide medical and psychological services to their clients. Tel Aviv officials will soon present the proposal to the Israeli Ministry of Health for approval.

The program will cut crime, the city argued, citing statistics finding that 75% of property crimes are committed by addicts looking for their next fix. "Many addicts therefore lose control and find themselves unwitting criminals," stated the Tel Aviv Municipal Anti-Drug Authority's position paper.

The city also reported that only 20% of heroin users who entered a treatment program remained drug-free. "Fighting addiction demands immense mental and physical fortitude that many addicts simply don't possess," said Dr. Benny Avrahami, director of the anti-drug authority, who drafted the position paper.

The program could bring many advantages, including providing stronger support for addicts and their families, a reduction in the economic cost of treating them, a reduction in crime, and the use of clean, laboratory-produced heroin. If Israeli authorities approve the pilot program, Israel will join a select group of European countries, including Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, where such program have consistently resulted in a decline in property crime, as well as improvements in clients' heath and welfare. Also allowing experimentation with heroin maintenance are Great Britain, which restarted it last year more than a decade after the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher had shut it down, and Canada, where the Vancouver North American Opiate Maintenance Initiative (NAOMI), is the only such program in North America.

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