Anyone who has witnessed the horrors of heroin at first hand knows it is a lethal drug that wrecks lives and tears families apart. Although its use has declined in recent years, particularly among young adults, it has still been responsible for thousands of British deaths over the past decade.
Heroin use can never be safe, but it can be made safer, which is why today’s announcement that aluminium foil will be made available to addicts is a sensible measure.
In the first place, the initiative will prevent deaths by encouraging users to report to treatment centres rather than sharing contaminated needles in bedsits and back streets. Having been put in contact with medical professionals, users will then be able to take a further step by agreeing programmes to tackle their addictions.
The move, which will be announced by the Liberal Democrat Home Office minister, Norman Baker, with the backing of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, will doubtless attract moralising criticism on the grounds that it legitimises drug use.
But it is a pragmatic instance of what works being put into practice, in the same way that handing clean needles to addicts is preferable to abandoning them to play Russian roulette with dirty needles, or that supplying methadone, itself highly addictive, is better than leaving them on heroin.
Many factors behind the drop in heroin use are beyond politicians’ influence – it is a trend across Western Europe as drugs fall in and out of fashion with young adults more drawn to party drugs than to the deadly substances associated with middle-aged junkies.
However, Mr Baker’s initiative can only help the fight against heroin addiction. What would be even more welcome would be for politicians to face up to the reality that our whole approach to controlled illicit substances is 40 years out of date and needs a complete overhaul.