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Should Heroin Be Available on Prescription in the UK?

According to the experts: yes.

by Marianne Eloise
14 December 2016, 12:00am

(Photo: Psychonaught)

In response to a steep rise in heroin-related deaths in the UK, the country's official drug advisers have suggested making heroin available on prescription, the Guardian reports.

A study by the Office for National Statistics found last year that heroin and morphine-related deaths accounted for 42 percent of total drug misuse deaths. The amount of deaths involving heroin and morphine was 952 in 2014, compared to 579 in 2012 – a sharp rise of almost two-thirds. The mortality rate from drug poisoning generally has been rising to its highest levels since comparable records began in 1993. The study combined the statistics for heroin deaths with those for morphine, as either heroin and/or morphine may be detected at post mortem and recorded on the death certificate.

In an effort to combat these statistics and slash the amount of heroin deaths, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) undertook an independent study beginning in March of this year. In the study the ACMD suggested a number of measures; these include introducing heroin-assisted treatment, where users would be prescribed heroin to allow them to safely continue their habit. The report analysed public research and found various inadequacies in the current treatment of heroin addiction, suggesting instead treatment rooms, a controversial method that was recently approved in theory in Glasgow to counteract the dangers of street use.

The ACMD is of the belief that supervised consumption of methadone is effective in reducing drug deaths, but that a longer period or higher frequency of supervision may be less effective in retaining patients in treatment. They then suggested heroin-assisted treatment, or "HAT", a service that would only be provided to users for whom other substitutes and treatments had not worked. They cited evidence that multiple trials of HAT have shown that it is effective in reducing street use and its negative outcomes. They believe that, despite the risks, HAT is effective in reducing drug deaths in cases where other substitutes have not been effective; they don't want to completely remove other substitutes and treatment, only to offer another centrally government-funded option where everything else has failed.

In a letter attached to the report, the ACMD addressed home secretary Amber Rudd, saying, "The ACMD is of the view that death is the most serious harm related to drug use. In recent years there have been substantial increases in the number of people dying in the UK where illicit drugs are reported to be involved in their death. The largest increase has been in deaths related to the misuse of opioid substances; 2,677 opioid-related deaths were registered in the UK in 2015. The ACMD therefore set up a dedicated working group to examine how to reduce drug-related deaths, with a focus on opioid-related deaths."

Despite the depth of the report and the persuasive evidence in the ACMD's favour, their recommendations have been quickly shot down by the government. A spokesperson for the Home Office told the Guardian: "Drugs can cause untold harm and this government is acting to reduce their devastating impact. Drug misuse among adults and young people has fallen in the last 10 years and we are working to educate young people about the risks." They added: "This government has no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms, but recovery will remain at the heart of our approach."

(Photo: Psychonaught, via)

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