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Treat heroin addicts with heroin?

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 Treat heroin addicts with heroin?

A new study has found that daily heroin injections given to long-term heroin addicts as part of a formal program can actually help in treating heroin users and reduce crime.

The study undertaken by the National Addiction Centre, which is associated with King’s College in London, revealed a 75 per cent reduction in the use of street heroin throughout the duration of the trial and the number of crimes committed in trying to obtain drugs was cut by two-thirds.

John Strang, who led the research, said: “The intensity of the program is quite striking.

“The bond that is formed and the commitment that’s established between the patient coming in for treatment and the staff is far greater than you would ever ordinarily see.”

The results of this study would suggest that taking heroin off the streets and administering it in safe, stable environment at a medically supervised clinic, could really make a difference to the fate of recovering addicts. In addition to this, a patient would also receive intensive counselling and addiction treatment which would act as support throughout the duration of the program.

The benefits of the study were evident within six weeks into treatment among those who had failed at other treatment methods.

One female patient, who had battled with her heroin addiction for 20 years, said that she had lost all hope of finding any form of treatment that would work for her. She said that this particular treatment option had helped her maintain a routine in life, enabled her to stop buying street drugs and provide her with some insight into what her life could be like if she wasn’t consumed with effects of heroin.

“You’ll always be an addict basically; it’s about managing it and leading a positive life” she said, adding, “It quickly became, well, I actually do want to stop. I don’t really want to have stick needles in me all my life”

The patient now says that her biggest fear is not relapsing, but that this program will be cut or shut down of the government believe it to be too controversial.

Another female patient, being treated on this program said that this method of treatment had made her feel cared for, supported and confident that she could kick her heroin addiction.

She said: “The morality of it was taken out of the question, I wasn’t being condemned for it and at last I could start taking responsibility in a rational way.”

“This thing that was the meaning of your life is becoming the thing that is getting in the way of your life and it becomes very unattractive”.

Strang believes that the promising results from the study could change the way hard-to-treat heroin addicts are treated in the future and may convince the government that the cost of this controversial method may in fact be good value.

“From the cost point of view, if you actually look at the bigger picture, cheap treatment isn’t always good treatment. If cheap treatment doesn’t deliver any benefit then it’s particularly bad value,” Strang said.

The cost of the treatment is relatively expensive at around £13,500 per patient, per year. However, when considered with the fact that keeping a person in prison can cost three times, it seems only logical that this treatment option should be seriously considered by the government.

If the encouraging results continue, Britain could set up permanent clinics around the country administering heroin to its most hard-to-treat addicts.

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