Hardened users of crack, the cocaine derivative, are being given auricular acupuncture in an attempt to reduce craving for the drug.

Initial results of a survey of addicts using the Turning Point's Junction Project, in Harlesden, suggest the therapy helps to reduce stress associated with drug abuse. It can help those addicts who have become involved in crime to pay for drugs to kick the habit, according to project managers.

The scheme received the Government's seal of approval yesterday with a visit by John Bowis, Under-Secretary of State for Health, who underwent acupuncture treatment.

The service, set up in Station Road in partnership with Brent council earlier this year in response to high levels of crack-related crime in the borough, gets pounds 300,000 a year from the Government and the council.

Sebastian Saville, a team leader with Turning Point, said many of those seeking help at the centre for crack addiction had a criminal record.

'The probation service is one of our access points, he said, adding that no one typical crime could be associated with crack. 'We see everything from shoplifting to armed robbery.

Steve Rossell, project manager, said: 'The accupuncture is useful as there is no medical detoxification process possible in the case of crack. No substitute, such as methadone, which is given to heroin users.

'Auricular acupuncture is a general treatment for relaxation and helps to reduce craving for crack or any other drug, including alcohol. It is based on the use of five points in the ear which affect the liver, kidneys, the Shenmen Point - a spiritual point for the heart - and the sympathetic nervous system.

He said no one really knew why acupuncture, said to affect 'energy meridians in the body, worked, but it did produce positive results. Someone going through detoxification at the centre would be likely to use auricular acupuncture daily.

Anecdotal evidence indicated that drug use might be much higher than the statistics indicated, said centre workers.

North West Thames regional health authority, has the fourth highest number of addicts notified to the Home Office in England. An estimated 40 per cent of those come from Brent. More than half of the drug users the health authority is working with are regularly using crack cocaine.

More alarming is the incidence of full-blown Aids among injecting drug users. North West Thames has the highest number of cases, 99 men and 23 women among injecting drug users in its area. It also has the highest number of HIV infection cases among injecting users of drugs, 362 men and 111 women, according to the figures for 1993-94.

Over the last quarter, from April to June, 87 people contacted the centre, 71 male and 16 female. Of 15 new clients, who have been in touch with the project, more than half are stimulant users. 'More people are injecting crack now because it is cheaper, this is dangerous because it is caustic and damages tissues and veins, said Mr Rossell.

Vernal Scott, policy development manager for drugs and HIV in Brent, said high rise estates had become havens for drug dealers. Stonebridge estate in Harlesden, Kilburn estate, Kilburn, and Chalk Hill estate, Wembley, were all problem areas, he said.

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