Senior police officer calls for heroin to be prescribed to addicts to cut crime

Heroin addicts should receive the drug on prescription from the National Health Service to stop them stealing to feed their habit, a senior police officer has suggested.

The idea, by Howard Roberts, Deputy Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire, follows the success of schemes in Switzerland and the Netherlands in turning repeat offenders away from crime.

In Britain most users are given the heroin substitute methadone, with a few hundred being prescribed heroin a limited experiment. Mr Roberts suggested that the scheme should be expanded, arguing that addicts committed an average of 432 offences a year. Three-quarters of street robbers test positive for heroin.

He told a drugs conference: "We should actively consider prescribing diamorphine, pharmaceutical heroin, to those seriously addicted to heroin, as part of a treatment programme for addiction. There is an undeniable link between addicted offenders and appalling levels of criminality, as heroin and crack cocaine addicts commit crime, from burglary to robbery to sometimes murder, to get the money to buy drugs to satisfy their addiction."

Mr Roberts also argued that the move would be cost-effective as it would cost £12,000 a year for each addict to be treated this way under close supervision. It would be the best way to work with them to beat their addiction - and they would not be on the streets stealing to buy the drug.

"Of course, getting people off drugs altogether must be the objective," he told an Association of Chief Police Officers' conference in Manchester. "But I personally do believe we have lived with the terrible consequences of relatively uncontained addiction for far too long."

At the moment between 300 and 400 drug users receive heroin for their dependency under a joint Home Office and Department of Health pilot project in London, the South-east and the North. Addicts enrolled on the scheme inject heroin under the supervision of clinical staff. A report on the project is expected next month.

However, Professor Neil McKeganey, of the drug misuse centre at the University of Glasgow, warned the move could increase levels of addiction.

He said: "We need to be very cautious here because in effect what one is doing is rewarding addicts for their criminality."

The charity DrugScope said prescribing heroin could be effective for some addicts. Martin Barnes, its chief executive, said: "It can have health benefits for the drug user. There is compelling evidence that heroin prescribing... is cost-effective in reducing drug-related crime and other costs to communities."

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Prescription of drugs to addicts is justified as long as it is part of a strategy of rehabilitation and withdrawal."

In a separate development, a government adviser has suggested that ecstasy and LSD should be downgraded from class A to class B substances.

Professor David Nutt, the chairman of the technical committee of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, told MPs it was anomalous for ecstasy and LSD to be treated by the law in the same way as heroin and crack cocaine.

Treatments for addiction

An estimated 40,000 Britons reguarly use heroin, either by injecting or smoking it.

The street price of the drug is between £30 and £100 a gram and some addicts spend as much as £15,000 a year on their habit. The most common treatment is methadone, a synthetic drug similar to heroin but less addictive.

A more expensive alternative is buprenorphine, which has been prescribed by doctors since 2001. Some private clinics prescribe naltrexone - a drug implanted in the abdomen or arm - to reduce the craving for heroin. It is not available on the National Health Service.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones