Heroin supply clinics leads to reductions in crime
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
Administering heroin in supervised clinics has led to a huge reduction in both crime and the use of street drugs.
The pilot followed more than 100 people in London, Brighton and Darlington. The volunteers were either injected with heroin or given methadone.
Those given heroin responded the best and now the panel who oversaw the pilot are advising ministers to set up further trials.
The pilot found that around three-quarters of those receiving heroin have been able to substantially reduce their use of street drugs.
It is estimated that between half and three-quarters of crack and heroin users claim they commit crime to feed their habits.
Leader of the project, Professor John Strang, has said that the pilot scheme results were very positive because it had helped cut crime and avoid prison sentences.
Professor Strang, who is based at the National Addiction Centre, part of King’s Health Partners, said the individuals on the programme were among those who had been the hardest to treat.
“It’s as if each of them is an oil tanker heading for disaster and so the purpose of this trial is to see: ‘Can you turn them around? Is it possible to avert disaster?’
“And the surprising finding - which is good for the individuals and good for society as well - is that you can,” he said.
The programme, The Randomised Injecting Opioid Treatment Trial (RIOTT), began in 2005 and is funded by a number of agencies
It involved 127 chronic heroin addicts for whom conventional types of treatment had failed. Many of the participants were also addicted to other substances, including crack cocaine.
A third of addicts were given the heroin substitute methadone orally and another third injected methadone under supervision.
The remainder injected themselves with diamorphine - unadulterated heroin - imported from Switzerland.
All of the participants enrolled on the programme were also given psychological support and help with their housing and social needs.
The results of the trail showed that participants in all three groups managed to cut the amount of heroin they took from street dealers.
According to researchers, more than half of the heroin injecting group were said to be “largely abstinent” and one-in-five did not use street heroin at all.
Before the programme, the participants in the heroin injecting group were spending over £300 a week on street drugs. Only six months, this had reduced to an average of £50 a week.
Further to this, there was also a big drop in the number of offences the participants admitted committing to obtain money to feed their habit.
In the month before the scheme started, participants in the heroin injecting group reported carrying out 1,731 crimes.
This had fallen to 547 offences, a reduction of more than two-thirds, after six months.
The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA), which administers drug treatment in England, said the results were “encouraging”.
The NTA said an independent expert group had concluded that there was enough “positive evidence of the benefits” of the programme to merit further pilots.
However, at £15,000 per user per year, supervised heroin injecting is three times more expensive than other treatments.