It would seem that the days of 100% abstinence-based addiction treatment programmes might be on their way out, and rising in their place, is a modern hybrid that takes into consideration the actual physiological and emotional needs of the addicts they are designed to help. Stemming from a sentiment that the programmes that have been in place for decades have had little to no impact and the fact that the UK has one of the highest heroin usage rates in Europe, policymakers are looking for a new approach to tackling heroin addiction.

Traditional abstinence-based treatment programmes for drug addiction were based on the concept of declaring addiction as a disease or illness. With that, a programme that included in-depth counselling and continued support was established. The main principle is that the addict can make and maintain a recovery so long as he or she maintains a lifelong abstinence from drugs or alcohol.

According to a recent report in the Guardian, the police force in Durham will be the first to embrace and employ a new method of addiction treatment aptly called ‘heroin-assisted treatment’. The method finds its roots in Switzerland, where positive results caught the eyes of other European countries struggling to find a way to help their addicted populations.

What Exactly is Heroin-Assisted Treatment?

Durham Constabulary, who just a week before the article was posted was rated the best in all of England, is set to purchase a significant amount of diamorphine (pharmaceutical grade heroin) and provide up to two supervised injections per day to addicts.

Citing a government-funded pilot programme in Darlington, Brighton, and London as evidence shows that providing heroin to 127 chronic users under close supervision resulted in reduced crime and eventually reduced drug use as well, as addicts are weaned off it.

Ultimately, the aim of the programme is to taper addicts off heroin while preventing them from committing crimes to support their next fix. Further, Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg stated, “The aim would be to enable people who have become addicted to heroin to follow a programme that would stabilise their addiction in a controlled environment, and reduce their dependency on heroin until they stop taking it. They would also follow a conventional drug addict support programme.”

While many sceptics like the United States and the narcotics board from the UN criticise this type of programme and argue that it fuels drug abuse rather than kerbing it, Mr Hogg said, “The UK was failing on drugs and desperately needed to try alternative approaches.”

Although Durham has approximately 2,000 heroin users, the heroin-assisted treatment would only be targeted toward a small group of ‘really prolific, at-risk offenders’. The costs associated with this programme are roughly £15,000 per patient, per year, and is only one-third of what it costs to keep a person in prison for a year. The point here is that by weaning addicts off heroin now, they will not be in prison later.

What Do Traditional Heroin Addiction Treatment Plans Look Like?

The first step in treating heroin addicts using the conventional abstinence-based approach is allowing the addict to detox safely. Many treatment facilities offer medically supervised heroin detox on both inpatient and outpatient basis and utilise prescription drugs to minimise the heroin withdrawal symptoms. Also effective for kerbing cravings, the most commonly used medications are:

§  Methadone – This medication is a low-strength opiate used to wean patients off heroin and prevent their withdrawal symptoms.

  • Naltrexone – This medication reduces heroin cravings and blocks receptors in the brain that react to opioids such as heroin. In effect, this fools the brain into believing it no longer needs the heroin.
  • Buprenorphine – This drug reduces the physical symptoms of withdrawal such as muscle aches and vomiting and reduces cravings. It is one of the most widely prescribed drugs for addiction treatment.

Following detox, it is strongly recommended that heroin addicts attend drug addiction treatment programmes because, in most instances where heroin addicts rely on detox as their only treatment, relapse rates are relatively high. As each user is different, each addiction treatment programme is individualised and tailored to the specific needs of each addict.

Is Heroin Use in the UK Getting Better or Worse?

There is mixed news, as the Guardian reported a 79% decrease in heroin use among young adults aged 18-24 entering addiction treatment over the past decade. However, of the 288,843 adults between the ages of 18 to 99 who were treated through structured treatment programmes for drug addiction during 2015-16, 52% were addicted to heroin or some other opiate.

On a positive note, 2,367 addicts from the same age group sought addiction treatment in 2016 as heroin became ‘increasingly unfashionable’.

Liberty House offers a broad range of addiction treatment options that span the entire treatment spectrum from detox all the way to follow-on care and includes residential rehab as an option. If you or somebody you love is struggling with heroin addiction, call today to find out how we can help.

Reference Links:

  1. (The Guardian) Durham police will give addicts heroin to inject in ‘shooting galleries
  2. (The Guardian) Swiss approve heroin scheme but vote down marijuana law
  3. (The Chronicle Live) Durham police hope to give addicts heroin to inject in special ‘shooting galleries’
  4. (The Guardian) Number of young heroin addicts in England down 79% over last decade