Pubdate: Mon, 20 May 2002
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: The Scotsman Publications Ltd 2002
Author: James Doherty
Bookmark: (Heroin Maintenance)
Bookmark: (Safe Injecting Rooms)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


PRESCRIBING heroin on the NHS may be a "necessary evil" to tackle 
Scotland's worsening drug addiction problem, campaigners said yesterday.

Alastair Ramsay, the director of Scotland Against Drugs, said giving GPs 
the authority to prescribe heroin would help drug users to access medical 
services for treatment and help reduce the damaging effects of drug-related 

His comments came as it emerged that the House of Commons Home Affairs 
Select Committee is set to recommend a network of "safe injecting areas", 
where addicts can use diamorphine, or medical heroin, prescribed by doctors.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has already signalled his intention to 
extend the prescription on heroin, allowing more licensed GPs to give out 
diamorphine from December this year.

Next month, he is also likely to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act so cannabis 
can be downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug. However, Home Office 
officials said there were no plans to downgrade ecstasy from a Class A 
drug. Mr Blunkett's former Cabinet colleague, Mo Mowlam, went further 
yesterday, calling on the government to have the "guts" to legalise both 
cannabis and ecstasy.

She told the BBC's Breakfast With Frost: "I would regulate it, make sure 
it's clean, how it is sold and, in addition, you could tax it." The number 
of people using heroin in the UK has risen dramatically from 1,000 in 1971 
to some 240,000. Despite methadone programmes and special drugs courts, 
Scotland's heroin scourge remains high with more than 55,000 problematic 
drugs users.

Although classification of drugs is a reserved matter, treatment policy 
remains a matter for the Executive.

Mr Ramsay urged society to face the fact that we may never stamp out drug 

He said: "This is something which may be a necessary evil. We need to 
broaden the number of strategies we have for dealing with people who have 
got drugs problems.

"In the 1960s, heroin was distributed by GPs, so this is technically 
nothing new."

Mr Ramsay said that there would have to be safeguards to ensure that 
prescribed drugs did not leak onto the black market and added protection 
for GPs' security.

He added: "I'm sure everybody in Scotland would like a society where drugs 
misuse just didn't happen, but we've got to be pretty hard-nosed about the 
reality. It may well be that GPs prescribing heroin may be one of the 
necessary evils we will have to put in place to keep drug users out of 
courts and stop them from breaking into our houses and our cars."

Colin Shanks, 48, from Cranhill, Glasgow, watched as first his son and then 
his daughter became hooked on drugs. His son first used heroin aged 12.

He said: "I've seen the hell that comes out of heroin. I've seen my boy 
almost die eight times. The reality is that everything that has been tried 
for the last 15 years has not worked. They have been prescribing heroin in 
Liverpool in a trial and it seems to have a good success rate. Society 
would benefit because they wouldn't steal to feed their habit."
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