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International News

United Kingdom: Prescribe Heroin on the NHS, Says Nurse Leader; Injection Rooms "Would Cut Crime and Infection Rates"

April 30, 2010

On Monday at the Royal College of Nursing's annual conference in Bournemouth, the head of Britain's largest nursing union said the National Health Service (NHS) should consider prescribing heroin to drug addicts and open "consumption rooms" for users to inject drugs under medical supervision.

Speaking in a personal capacity following a debate on the issue, Dr. Peter Carter said, "I do believe in heroin prescribing. The fact is, heroin is very addictive." "If you are going to get people off heroin, then in the initial stages we have to have proper heroin prescribing services," he said.

Claire Topham Brown, a nurse from Cambridgeshire, said heroin prescriptions could help the NHS cut the transmission of blood-borne viruses like HIV and hepatitis and provide a "stepping stone" to wean users off heroin and on to methadone.

"Critics say you are encouraging drug addiction, but the reality is that these people are addicts and they are going to do it anyway," said Carter. "I think there should be research into drug consumption rooms -- they have them in Sydney and Amsterdam." In these two cities, he said, drug users have stopped injecting in public places like school playgrounds.

Pilot studies at King's College's national addiction center suggest medically supervised injection sites could cut local crime rates by two-thirds over six months. Of 127 pilot participants, three-quarters "substantially reduced" their use of street drugs. The number of crimes they committed declined from 1,731 in three months to 547 in six months.

The participants had access to a range of support services, including counseling, and typically attended the clinic up to two times a day, seven days a week. The annual cost per patient was roughly £15,000 (US $22,965), compared with £40,000 (US $61,240) for prison, the addiction researchers said.

Back to other news for April 2010

Adapted from:
The Guardian (London)
04.27.2010; Randeep Ramesh

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
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