Letter: Keep addicts alive

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The toll among Strathclyde heroin users represents an avoidable waste of young lives ("Glasgow heroin epidemic kills 99", 1 September). Overdoses occur when users take too much heroin for their level of tolerance, either because their tolerance has fallen (taking a "normal" dose after a drug-free period), or where the purity of the heroin is much higher than expected, or because it interacts with other drugs, such as alcohol or tranquillisers.

A recent Big Issue survey showed a majority of addicts receiving methadone maintenance supplemented by using street drugs. This suggests that the dosage guidelines for methadone maintenance require revision, or that authorities should consider emulating the Swiss and others by prescribing to addicts injectable heroin, or heroin-laced cigarettes (as pioneered in the Wirral), of pharmaceutical quality and known dosage, to reduce the death toll.

Such a policy could also result in substantial falls in acquisitive crime, and allow "stable" heroin addicts to become productive members of society.

Decades of increasingly "tough" policies on drugs have resulted in an exponential growth of use, yet drug prices are stable or falling. Perhaps it is time for the Government to get smart instead.