Leading article: "Shooting galleries" work

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For once, there is news to cheer about in the drugs field. Early results from the first trial in Britain of "injecting clinics" – shooting galleries where addicts receive a clean supply of heroin or methadone which they inject themselves in sterile conditions and under supervision – show impressive success.

Crimes committed by the addicts to fund their habit have dropped from an average of 40 a month to half-a-dozen, and use of street drugs has been cut from every day to four or five times a month.

If these findings are confirmed when the final results are available at the end of next year, they will represent a dramatic gain in the battle against drug use – both for society and for the users themselves. Ten per cent of drug addicts commit three-quarters of all acquisitive crime.

We are so used to failure in the drugs field that we tend to treat even good news negatively. Scepticism is the order of the day. It was evident yesterday in the incredulous tone in which John Humphrys questioned Professor John Strang, who is leading the study, on the Today programme.

In what way did giving addicts the drugs they were previously scoring on the street amount to treatment, Mr Humphrys wanted to know. The answer is that this is about harm reduction first, and secondarily about "cure". Cutting crime and stabilising addicts' lives is a significant advance, especially in a population so hard to treat.

The next stage is to wean addicts off their drugs. That has yet to be tested. But for the 3,000 to 6,000 long-term, hard-core heroin users this approach has already shown its worth.