Roger Graham was celebrating his daughter's birthday yesterday as a quintessential family man. But in a previous life he was addicted to heroin. For many years, the seemingly endless search for a fix was simply a way of life for him, a constant battle to find enough money and an honest dealer to feed his habit.
And in many ways it was the relentless search for a score that ensured he would never spend much time thinking about trying to find a way out of his addiction. "As long as you are always looking for the next hit you can get hopelessly stuck," he said. "A user spends most of their day simply waiting for a dealer, getting the money together and finding a fix."
Which is why the 46-year-old believes setting up safe havens would help persuade long-term users away from their addictions. "If you encourage people to go to a [shooting gallery] where they are prescribed diamorphine [pharmaceutical heroin] on a regular basis it becomes a mundane sort of workaday experience," he said. "People think if you give a heroin addict heroin then they'll be on it for life, but in fact many do decide enough is enough."
Niamh Eastwood, 34, is part of the drug charity Release's legal team and visits the capital's addicts at a network of 10 centres, meeting about 60 addicts every week. She believes the shooting galleries would make an enormous difference.
"It's a familiar story," she says. "People begin taking drugs, then they take more and can't afford it so they begin committing crimes. We need to take these people away from the criminal cycle and away from the criminal drug dealers."
Gary Sutton, Release's head of drug services, says places providing prescription heroin enable local authorities to get some of the most vulnerable users into rehab. "Drug consumption rooms particularly benefit the chaotic and homeless user and gets them off the streets," he says. "[Pharmaceutical heroin] is not a cheap drug to get your hands on, but where it has been extensively trialled – in the Netherlands and Switzerland – all the evidence shows that remission rates among users, after about two or three years, is surprisingly high."
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