Addicts forsake needles for prescription service: A controversial scheme to help hard-drug users has curbed HIV infection. Will Bennett reports

PULLING fiercely on a cigarette, his hands clenching and unclenching, John has no doubt that if it were not for the Community Drug Problem Service (CDPS) in Edinburgh he would be dead by now.

After a turbulent upbringing in which he had lived in 20 different children's homes by the age of 15, he took to heroin in the Eighties, when Edinburgh was threatening to become the Aids capital of Britain.

He was injecting the drug every day and turned to crime to raise the hundreds of pounds a week that his habit cost him. He said: 'I had what junkies call a needle fixation. I had one foot in the grave.'

John, 29, is still an addict: every day he gets 55mg of methadone, a heroin substitute, on prescription from his general practitioner to take orally. But he has stopped injecting, stopped stealing and started to regain his self-respect.

He is one of 1,200 addicts in the Scottish capital who now get drugs such as methadone, dihydrocodeine and diazepam prescribed by their family doctors. The scheme has been running for five years and the arguments about it remain fierce.

A new report suggests that the CDPS has achieved a dramatic reduction in the number of addicts injecting. Now only about a quarter take drugs this way compared with almost 90 per cent when the scheme started.

The programme has also reduced the spread of HIV through sharing infected needles and supporters of the CDPS believe it has contributed to a falling crime rate. Its opponents, however, say it has created a new cycle of dependency.

Addicts are referred to the CDPS by GPs and assessed by a team led by Dr Judy Greenwood, a consultant psychiatrist. If they are given prescriptions, the administration of drugs is supervised by the service for three weeks. Then family doctors take over prescribing while the CDPS monitors them. The aim is to stabilise drug use, reduce dosages and gradually get people off them altogether.

There is not much evidence of the latter happening. Dr Greenwood admits that only 40 to 50 of the 2,500 people referred to the CDPS since it began are now free of drugs. But in a report just published by the Centre for HIV/Aids and Drugs Studies, Sally Haw, an independent drugs researcher, said that only 24 per cent of Edinburgh's addicts had injected in the past six months. Ms Haw says that 'the reported shift from injecting to oral drug use . . . has helped contain the epidemic of HIV infection among Edinburgh drug users, at least in the short term'.

Crime in the region has dropped by 8 per cent since last year and the CDPS believes that reducing addicts' need to steal to pay for drugs has been a factor.

However, Ms Haw's survey discovered that most addicts misuse their prescription in some way and that 89 per cent had used street drugs in the past six months.

Detective Chief Inspector Jinty Kerr, head of the Lothian and Border Police drugs squad, supports the scheme. She said: 'Heroin has not disappeared from the streets of Edinburgh but there is much less of it.'

But some doctors remain opposed. Dr Ian McKee, a GP, said: 'What you are doing is putting a large amount of prescribed drugs into the community. There is a torrent leaking on to the black market.'

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home