`Free heroin for hardened addicts'

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The Independent Online
FREE HEROIN should be supplied regularly to addicts, adrug campaigner said yesterday. Mike Goodman, director of the drug and legal advice charity, Release, is calling for the drug programmes found in other parts of Europe to be introduced into the UK.

In Germany, government- sponsored versions of "shooting galleries" are opening while the Swiss have been supplying a test group of 1,000 addicts with drugs.

Similar measures would help to reduce the impact of Britain's growing heroin problem, Mr Goodman said yesterday. "If someone is given a legal supply of heroin, they can live to a ripe old age, hold down a job and lead a relatively stable life.

"It is not an ideal situation - it is a sad fact. But you have to take the world as it is," he said.

Mr Goodman, a lawyer who has dedicated the past seven years to fighting drugs, said: "Far more than cannabis, speed, ecstasy or even crack cocaine, heroin is the ultimate challenge." He believes, however, it is time to throw off old prejudices and take a fresh look at the problem.

International experts on drug dependency will gather in London in July to reveal the results of studies that appear to support the proposal.

Mr Goodman said that young people who experiment with heroin must be stopped with information about the dangers of the drug. But for those who are already hooked, it was time for a progressive approach. The addiction may be too strong to "cure".

"We don't decide we have to cure alcoholism in the UK. If a housewife living in suburbia is drinking a bottle of gin, we think, `Let them get on with it as long as they are not harm to anyone else'. Addiction is an illness. We should not drive them [drug addicts] to a life of crime."

By supplying addicts with the drug legally, associated crime, unemployment, family and social problems would be eliminated. A legal supplycould also help to tackle the problems of HIV and hepatitis C.

"Stabilising drugs use cuts down on criminal behaviour and improves the family situation. Many can hold down jobs and they are kept in touch with the health services." Furthermore, the dealers would be squeezed out.

Addicts, Mr Goodman said, died of overdoses, bad drugs or illnesses from contaminated needles. "If somebody is legally supplied with heroin, they have a life expectancy in line with non-users."

About 200 addicts are supplied with heroin, by a handful of doctors. While most GPs relied on prescribing methadone, Mr Goodman said the substitute is inappropriate for some users.

"Methadone is far more addictive than heroin. It is the second choice of addicts, which means they might still be looking for heroin because it is their favourite."

The medical establishment, he said, felt more comfortable about supplying a substitute rather than a drug of choice.

The Swiss have taken a different view. Its Federal Office of Public Health has been monitoring a programme for more than a year in which about 1,000 addicts are provided with heroin. One organiser will outline the success of the project at the Release conference.

"The Swiss are no softies. They have taken a rational, clinical look at the problem. They held a referendum and 70 per cent of people voted in favour of a controlled programme."

In Frankfurt, "consumption rooms" have been established where addicts are provided with clean needles and a place to relax after injecting themselves. They are also able to keep in touch with health services.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said last night: "Money has been given to local health authorities to improve drugs services. It is up to them to decide how they want to spend that money and if they want to seek inspiration from abroad for their proposals."

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