Pubdate: Mon, 12 Dec 2016
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited


Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs also suggests supervised
injecting rooms to combat rising number of drug deaths

Heroin on prescription and supervised injecting rooms are among a
range of measures that the government's drug advisers have suggested
to reverse the UK's soaring numbers of drug deaths.

Responding to a sharp rise in the number of heroin-related deaths in
recent years, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said
maintenance of drug treatment programmes was essential to prevent
further increases.

Overdoses hit record levels in England and Wales last year, exceeding
the number of deaths from road traffic accidents, according to
official figures published in September, sparking criticism of the
government's approach to drugs and addiction services.

The ACMD's recommendations come as the government plans deep cuts to
local authority public health grants, the money which funds drug
treatment services.

In a letter accompanying Monday's report, the ACMD chairman, Les
Iversen, told Amber Rudd, the home secretary: "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."

He added: "The most important recommendation in this report is that
government ensures that investment in OST of optimal dosage and
duration is, at least, maintained."

However, drug treatment experts leapt on the report's recommendations
for the introduction of heroin-assisted treatment - where users are
prescribed heroin to allow them to safely maintain their habit - and
medically supervised injecting rooms.

Niamh Eastwood, executive director of Release, said that heroin
prescription had been successfully trialled for addicts who had proved
resistant to OST, and that the results of a similar policy in
Switzerland had been positive. "It can be helpful in stabilising
[addicts]; it keeps them away from the black market and allows them to
maintain relationships with family," she said.

Ian Hamilton, an expert in mental health and substance use at the
University of York, said: "One of the most radical things is calling
for drug consumption rooms. That's quite progressive really because
Public Health England have been really shy about drug consumption
rooms and we know from evidence that those are the things that make
the biggest difference to reducing deaths in people who inject drugs."

However, the Home Office said that the government had no intention of
following up on the ACMD's recommendation. A spokesperson for the
department said: "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, to
help those who are dependent through treatment, and to clamp down on
the illicit trade.

"This government has no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms but
recovery will remain at the heart of our approach. We are grateful to
the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for their advice and will
respond in due course."
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