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Dublin: 9 °C Saturday 1 November, 2014

Treating heroin users with heroin works – EU report

A new report by the EU drugs agency has found supervised heroin therapy has helped ‘untreatable’ chronic heroin users.

Image: Julien Behal/PA Wire

SUPERVISED HEROIN USE has been found to be of more benefit to chronic and ‘untreatable’ heroin users than any other treatment, a new study has found.

Research by the EU drugs agency found that supervised injectable heroin treatment was more effective than other treatments, including methadone,  and led to substantial improvements in the health and well-being of chronic drug users.

Supervised treatment of medicinal heroin, which was first introduced in Switzerland in the 1990s, is legally available in six countries including Germany, Denmark and the UK.

Substitution drugs such as methadone have long been a mainstay of Irish drugs policy towards heroin users.

Under the treatment, supervised injectable medical heroin is delivered under direct medical supervision in specialised clinics in an effort to reduce patients’ use of ‘street’ heroin and involvement in crime.

The report found the treatment can lead to major reductions in drug users’ use of street heroin, major disengagement from criminal activities and marked improvements in how the addicts engaged with society, including a higher employment rate and more stable housing situations.

The report out today looked at the small minority of opioid users who repeatedly fail to respond to substitution drugs such as methadone as a way to be weaned off drug dependence. The findings suggested that supervised use of medicinal heroin can be an effective second-line treatment for the small and previously unresponsive group.

Experts described the development as ‘an important clinical step forward’ in the report out today from the EU drugs agency. The study was the first major overview to look at recent evidence and clinical experience in Europe and internationally.

Senator John Crown said in February that the current Irish drugs policy is not working and heroin in Ireland should be medicalised. The Senator proposed changing the laws around heroin to register addicts and provide them with heroin assisted treatment in a clean environment and under medically supervised circumstances.

“Failing to do something about this problem will not make it go away,” Crown, a consultant oncologist, wrote at the time.

Only one in ten opiate addicts are heroin free and only a handful of them become methadone free. We need to build a system which attracts addicts, helps them get out of crime, reintegrates them into society, and has the resources to help those who want to get clean to get clean.

Read the report in full here >

Column: The war on drugs isn’t working. We need to medicalise heroin.

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