Prescribing heroin to addicts doesn’t help get them off drugs and risks making doctors like dealers, a leading drugs expert has warned.
The method “is far removed from how we normally consider treatment – which is resolution”, said Professor Neil McKeganey of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University.
Prof McKeganey was speaking in light of a project carried out in England which concluded that providing addicts with prescription heroin helped them reduce their drug use.
More than 100 addicts took part in the project, and were injected either with heroin or a substitute, methadone. Of those injected with heroin, 75 per cent substantially reduced their use of the drug.
But Prof McKeganey said prescribing people with addictive drugs would not help them become drug free.
He said the success of the pilot should not lead to the wider use of heroin prescription programmes, pointing to the poor results from using methadone.
“That shows you that both in Scotland and in England we can give drugs to addicts with spectacular success, but what we are really failing at is getting them off”, he said.
There have been calls for the heroin project to be extended to Scotland.
The Scottish Government recently decided to focus its drugs strategy on abstinence-based rehabilitation treatment to help people become drug-free.
However, it emerged earlier this week that addicts in Scotland were increasingly being offered methadone as a cheaper and easier option than rehabilitation.
Prof McKeganey said about 20 residential rehabilitation centres were closing in England, and said Scotland provided “scandalously little” resources for people to get off drugs.
“The trouble with drugs is their fantastic ability to corrupt us”, Prof McKeganey warned.
“This project seems like a good idea, but it’s a very troublesome situation when your health service starts taking responsibility for the drug which the addict is consuming.
“That creates a potentially difficult and unwelcome set of circumstances in which doctors run the risk of becoming like dealers.”