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
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn