Prescribe heroin on NHS, says Royal College of Nursing leader

Heroin should be routinely prescribed on the NHS as a way of weaning drug users off their addiction, the head of the country’s top nursing union has said.

Peter Carter, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), also said he was in favour of “drug consumption rooms” to enable addicts to take drugs safely under medical supervision, and to cut rates of drug-related crime.Prescribe heroin on NHS, says Royal College of Nursing leaderNurses gathering at the RCN’s annual congress in Bournemouth had earlier discussed providing heroin to addicts where other attempts at treatment have failed.

Results of pilot studies in London, Brighton and Darlington suggest that allowing users to inject themselves with the Class A drug under medical supervision can cut local crime rates by two thirds over six months.

Aberdeen has been considered as a potential future pilot location in Scotland.

But some experts are concerned at the prospect of providing legitimate “shooting galleries” in publically-funded clinics, despite the increasing use of methadone, the heroin-subsitute, and a lack of abstinence-based programmes.

Amid controversy over how to treat chronic drug users, members of the RCN, the country’s largest nursing union, discussed the possibility of providing heroin on the NHS today but did not hold a vote for or against the move.

Speaking in a personal capacity after the debate, Dr Carter, the former head of Central and North West London Mental Health NHS Trust, said that he believed in providing drugs, needle exchanges and locations for users to inject substances safely.

“The fact is heroin is very addictive,” he said. “People who are addicted so often resort to crime, to steal to buy the heroin. It obviates the need for them to steal.

“It might take a few years but I think people will understand that if you are going to get people off heroin then in the initial stages we have to have proper heroin prescribing services.” Dr Carter added that more research was needed into consumption rooms, which have been tested in Sydney and Amsterdam.

Experts found the programme stopped users injecting in school playgrounds and stairwells.

“Critics say you are encouraging drug addiction but the reality is that these people are addicts and they are going to do it anyway,” he added.

Radical proposals for the most chronic drug users were first advocated in 2002 by the then Home Secretary David Blunkett. The gave rise to pilot programmes in England in which users inject themselves with pharmaceutical diamorphine imported from Switzerland, under medical supervision.


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