HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Heated Debate Over Heroin Report
Pubdate: Thu, 03 Feb 2005
Source: BBC News (UK Web)
Copyright: 2005 BBC
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Research which said it is possible to live normally while regularly
taking heroin has prompted a fierce debate.

The Glasgow Caledonian University study of 126 users of the class A
drug found many were holding down normal jobs and relationships and
passing exams.

The report said heroin could be taken in a controlled way for a

But drugs worker Peter Anderson and Alistair Ramsay of Scotland
Against Drugs said the research was sending out the wrong messages.

Mr Ramsay said: "Anyone reading this who thinks they can take heroin
safely would be wrong.

"In Scotland we have 55,800 heroin users who are clearly unable to
function as normal so it cannot be assumed that the findings have
universal application.

"The chances are the vast majority of those who start taking heroin
are not going to be able to function and rather, they will develop
major problems which require to be funded by the public purse."

However, Lord Victor Adebowale, the chief executive of specialist
alcohol and drug organisation Turning Point, said the report was not
saying that heroin was safe.

He explained: "It says that if you have a job, if you have a house, an
income, are well educated and have a health system to support you,
it's possible to survive an addiction to a pretty serious substance.

"Most people don't have this and have mental health challenges as well
as a heroin problem."

'Ruins lives'

At first minister's questions on Thursday, Jack McConnell said the
Scottish Executive would do everything to tackle heroin addiction.

However, ministers have consistently ruled out the medical
prescription of the drug.

Ministers also stressed that heroin was an illegal drug which "ruins
lives and damages communities".

The report's author, Dr David Shewan, agreed that heroin was not a
safe drug.

He said the concept of controlled drug use was a "largely unexplored"
area of research and warned that the results should be treated with

The doctor added: "However, this study shows that the chemical
properties of specific substances, including heroin, should not be
assumed to inevitably lead to addictive and destructive patterns of
drug use.

"Drug research should incorporate this previously hidden population to
more fully inform theory and practice.

"Psychological and social factors have to be taken into account when
looking at how to deal with any form of addiction, including heroin

Edinburgh-based outreach work Mr Anderson is a former drug addict who
said heroin use and heroin injecting in Scotland is an immense problem
which is getting worse.

He added: "Every day, unfortunately, men and women are dying in the UK
from heroin overdoses and that is the context that we cannot forget."

Higher education

The research has also sparked criticism in the way it was carried

The drug users were not interviewed personally, only through an

However, the researchers said it was important to maintain trust and
safeguard identities.

The work by Dr Shewan and his colleague Phil Dargarno was funded by
the Chief Scientist Office.

The 126 people studied in Glasgow had been taking heroin for an
average of seven years and were not receiving treatment for their drug

Most of those involved in the study were in a relationship and a third
had children. In contrast to those receiving treatment for heroin use,
three quarters of the sample group were employed and a third were
placed at the top end of the job sector.

Some 64% of those surveyed had continued in education after secondary
school, and 11% were in full-time higher education at the time of the

Unemployed people accounted for 15% of the group, and only 5% had no
educational qualifications.

The study found that some heroin users could maintain occupations and
achieve educational qualifications which were comparable with the
general UK population - and were considerably higher than normally
found in heroin research.

In the first phase of the study 30% of those involved reported
drug-related health problems, although most did not require medical

Health issues

Only a handful of those surveyed said they regularly injected

The group seemed reasonably satisfied with their level of physical
health, with almost 48% describing their health as good and just 7%
describing it as bad or fairly bad.

Just 15% of the participants reported that their heroin use had been
associated with family problems, only one blamed the drug for the
break-up of a long-term relationship and nobody's child had been taken
into care.

While 60% reported a negative effect on their employment or education,
only two people said drug misuse had cost them their jobs.

By the end of the study six participants had begun specialist drug
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