Criminals should be able to get heroin free on the NHS, Scottish Liberal Democrats have voted at their annual conference.
Members voted for “diamorphine maintenance treatment” for criminals dependent on the drug, as an alternative to fines or prison, which they claim do not work.
But politicians have slammed the idea as “very hard to understand”.
The motion was tabled on the final day of the party’s Scottish Conference in Perth earlier this month, just prior to the keynote speech by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Callum Leslie, the party’s Holyrood candidate for Mid Fife and Glenrothes, said: “For drug offenders, fines and jail time simply don’t work.
“Controlled diamorphine treatment is a method that works where others fail”, he added.
But Labour MSP Richard Baker disagreed and claimed that there had been “very limited” trials in England and a blanket provision of the drug in every case would be “very hard to understand”.
“What society wants most is to get junkies off drugs, not keep them on”, he added.
An SNP spokesman agreed: “They should stick to proven methods to get users off drugs”, he said.
Under the Lib Dems’ plan, heroin addicts would be given diamorphine – the medical name for the drug – to cut down on deaths from tainted street drugs and deter them from turning to further crime or prostitution to feed their habit.
But Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie slammed the ‘harm reduction’ approach as unworkable: “I have never been convinced that state-funded heroin is the answer”, she said.
“There is already an over-reliance on another opiate, methadone, as a treatment.
“The sea change we need”, she concluded, “is radically improving access to recovery programmes, which lead to abstinence”.
Last year, the SNP Government sanctioned free drug sterilisation kits for Scottish prisoners in a controversial bid to help them inject heroin more ‘safely’.
Critics blasted the scheme as a “gross insult” to the victims of crime and called for more to be done to get inmates off drugs.
The kits contain a cooker, foil, hand cleaner, pre-injection swab, a filter, a citric acid sachet and a leaflet on how to clean a needle and a syringe.
Margaret Watson, from the campaign group Justice for Victims, said at the time: “This is astonishing.
“It’s a way of rewarding drug addicts and is just another example of the way the penal system has become a laughing stock.”
Richard Baker, the Scottish Labour justice spokesman, said: “Schemes like this are about harm reduction and will not rehabilitate anyone.”
He added: “The SNP should be stopping the drugs trade in our prisons by introducing more checks and tough action against dealers.”
His concerns were echoed by Scottish Tory spokesman John Lamont who cautioned: “It’s one thing to try to reduce harm to drug taking prisoners but the real drive has to be to get prisoners to give up drugs altogether.”
Despite heroin being illegal, some inmates continue taking the drug, using shared needles, whilst in prison.
Officials at the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) claim that it’s more effective to offer inmates drug sterilisation kits than try and get them off drugs.