By JAMES SLACK
Drug addicts have been given £2.5million of heroin and nursing care in NHS “shooting galleries” while law-abiding patients are denied life-prolonging treatment.
The addicts are allowed to inject themselves with a pure form of the class A drug in private rooms, under the supervision of round-the-clock nursing staff.
Despite free access to the drug – which costs £15,000 a year, including nursing care – many are still committing crimes.
But leaders of the joint Home Office and Department of Health project, which began quietly two years ago, say initial results are encouraging.
The pilot, limited to London, Brighton and Darlington, could eventually be rolled out nationwide.
Trial leader Professor John Strang, of the National Addiction Centre, based at London’s Institute of Psychiatry, said about 40 per cent of users in London had “quit their involvement with the street scene completely”. “Of those who have continued, which obviously is a disappointment, it goes down from every day to about four days per month,” he added.
“Their crimes, for example, have gone from 40 a month to perhaps four crimes per month. The reduction in crime is not perfect but is a great deal better for them and crucially a great deal better for society.”
The cost of the treatment, including providing heroin, is between £9,000 and £15,000 per patient – three times as much as a year’s course of methadone. It is restricted to hardcore addicts, who experts say cannot be helped in other ways. But critics questioned the decision to plough so much money into treating drug addicts when law-abiding citizens were being denied much-needed drugs.
Despite a huge public backlash, Alzheimer’s patients newly diagnosed with mild symptoms no longer qualify for medication – despite a cost of only £2.50 each day.
Drugs for some types of cancer, arthritis, bone disease and the prevention of blindness in older people are also being restricted, leading to claims of postcode prescribing and bitter court challenges.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “It shows a pretty warped sense of priorities to give criminals free drugs on the NHS whilst denying life-saving treatments to law-abiding citizens.
“Free healthcare shouldn’t be about getting high at the taxpayer’s expense. Drug users should be given help to give up their habits and to lead an honest life. We shouldn’t be aiding and abetting their personal failings.”
Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “This is a white flag approach. The Government are effectively conceding that the war on drugs is not winnable and instead spending millions of pounds trying to ‘manage’ addiction.
“We believe the Government should not focus spending on trying to manage drug addiction but should spend the drugs budget on ending addiction.
“We would do this by expanding the use of abstinence-based drug rehabilitation programs which have proved far more successful at getting people off drugs than the Government’s approach.
“By simply giving addicts drugs, the Government is betraying the people in our society who so desperately need our help, to a life of addiction.”
A spokesman for the Victims of Crime Trust said: “We should not be giving free Class-A drugs to addicts – many of whom will be prolific criminals – at a time when law-abiding members of the public are being forced to go to the High Court to get life-saving treatment.
“We need to get criminals off drugs and stop them re-offending, but it should not be at the expense of people whose only crime is to be gravely ill. We are allowing Class-A drug addicts to hold us to ransom.”
Dr Nicola Metrebian, who manages the clinical trials, acknowledged that supplying the addicts with the specially imported heroin is a heavy financial investment but she added: “It is more expensive than standard treatment, but what we do know is that standard treatment – although it is cheaper – is not effective for this group of people.”
Source: Daily Mail 19th Nov. 2007