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England’s Heroin Experiment

For most of the last 90 years the United Kingdom was the only country that allowed its physicians to dispense heroin to patients as a means to alleviate withdrawal and manage opiate addiction. In fact, the drug was originally created by the Bayer Company as a non-addictive substitute to morphine (1), but quickly swept across Europe and the rest of the world as one of the most addictive substances known. However, England recognized the drug’s unique value as a type of treatment for addiction, and over the last few decades has coupled this with the use of methadone to better manage the heroin addiction problem that has existed in the country for nearly a century.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, not all opiate addicts benefit from treatment with methadone (2), the current addiction treatment drug of choice for most developed countries. For those users who do not respond to methadone treatment, heroin is often an effective alternative treatment because it motivates patients to continue to seek out treatment in a safe, monitored and medically managed environment. In fact, this is the general theory behind treating addiction with any type of substance: by making treatment available in a safe setting and coupling it with various therapies, addicts are provided with an opportunity to clean up without being ostracized or penalized criminally or civilly.

Doctors in the United Kingdom rarely prescribe heroin today because the risks are often perceived as far outweighing the potential benefits. The primary risk is that a patient prescribed heroin will have no motivation to stop using and so will become a perpetual abuser. (2) Additionally, there is always concern that drugs prescribed legitimately could be diverted to the streets and the black market, thereby compounding the illicit drug problem.

Proponents of broader heroin prescription laws state that by allowing users to come to a medically managed facility in the United Kingdom for their “fix,” they will be providing a safer place not only for the addicts, but also for people who live in the community. This is evidenced by the high rate of acquisitive crime associated with illicit drug use in nearly every country in the world. By removing the need to acquire drugs illegally, crimes like robberies, thefts and fraud theoretically occur less frequently.

Regardless of whether the prescription is for pharmaceutical heroin or for methadone, British law requires that patients must attend treatment in order to continue to receive the drug. This provides counselors and therapists the opportunity to work with these addicted individuals to help provide them with the skills and knowledge needed to slowly wean them from the drug in a gradual, professionally managed way. Addicts who have attended such programs often report a higher rate of perceived success and fewer incidences of relapse. However, these reports are not easily substantiated, and because patients may continue to get prescriptions for heroin or methadone for a year or more at a time, relapse rates among these individuals are much more difficult to measure.

England’s heroin experiment has thus far yielded mix results and has taken a considerable sideline position when compared to methadone, which is also the opiate addiction treatment drug of choice here in the United States. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to heroin, morphine, Oxycontin or any other drug, call our Florida Rehab Center now. We have addiction specialists standing by to answer your calls 24 hours per day, and we can help you regardless of where you are located or how far your problem has progressed. Take control of your life once again and call us right now.

(1) Wikipedia Heroin Etymology
(2) Gerry V Stimson and Nicky Metrebian Prescribing Heroin: What is the Evidence? September 12, 2003 Joseph Rowntree Foundation

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More