- Police Chiefs are proposing the effective
of heroin, with plans to supply it free to eliminate dealers and associated
- Sir David Phillips, the president of the Association
of Chief Police Officers, will unveil proposals next month for the most
radical change to drugs policy so far. He will call for heroin to be
to anyone who wants it in an attempt to destroy the illegal trade and the
£1 billion cost of crime committed by addicts.
- The drug will be dispensed - probably as a tablet or
linctus - in official premises staffed by police, social workers and
personnel. It will still be a crime to use or possess heroin
- The scheme is based on a Swiss system which has resulted
in a decline in the heroin trade but has proven costly and has been blamed
for attracting first-time users.
- Chief constables throughout the country have been
on the idea and Sir David is meeting Andy Hayman, Deputy Assistant
of the Metropolitan Police, to finalise his announcement this week.
- Sir David, the chief constable of Kent, said: "The
system has failed. We have an out-of-control drugs industry and it is time
to try a new approach." A senior officer said: "If we provide
free heroin to anyone who wants it, then at a stroke we eliminate a
criminal conspiracy. No one would buy heroin if they can get it
- Doctors cannot prescribe heroin to addicts without a
Home Office licence. Just 102 do and most of them prescribe to a handful
of patients with special medical needs.
- Most addicts are instead prescribed methadone, a heroin
substitute, which they must take on the premises at chemists' shops and
GPs' surgeries. The cost of prescribing methadone is estimated at
million a year and that would be saved if a significant number switched
- Dame Ruth Runciman, who chaired the Police Foundation
into drugs which recommended making possession of cannabis a non-arrestable
offence, said the proposals had not been properly thought through.
- She said: "I support some increase in prescribing
heroin by family doctors but I think a scheme of this kind would cause
many problems. It would be difficult to decide on the spot whether someone
should be prescribed heroin and what dose to give them.
- "I am also far from convinced that there would be
a large drop in crime. There is certainly some evidence linking drugs with
crime but there are also many other factors which cause crime, including
- Prescribing heroin was standard practice from the 1920s
to 1960s and was credited with keeping addict numbers down. In 1971, there
were 500 addicts.
- Now there are an estimated 500,000. Since 1971, medical
opinion has favoured weaning addicts off their dependency by using
- There had been previous experiments in prescribing
In 1989, a system offering chronic addicts pharmaceutical heroin on the
NHS began in the North. The so-called Widnes experiment, under Dr John
Marks, a psychiatrist, ran for five years.
- The clinic claimed there were no drug-related deaths
or HIV infection, and a significant improvement in health among the group
of addicts. Police in north Cheshire reported a 93-per-cent reduction in
drug-related crime among the addicts but in 1994, the experiment's funding
- Last year, Francis Wilkinson, the former chief constable
of Gwent, called for the reinstatement of prescription heroin. Heroin was
first produced in 1874 by Alder Wright, a chemist at St Mary's Hospital,
London, who wanted to rid opium of its addictive qualities.
- Heinrich Dreser, who was in charge of new drugs at Bayer,
then a dye-making firm, believed the drug could be effective in the
of respiratory illnesses and registered it as "heroin" from the
German word heroisch, meaning heroic.
- It was marketed as "Sulfonal, the reliable
and was eventually taken off the market because of its addictive