POLICE in County Durham are planning to introduce a scheme supplying heroin addicts with the drug this year.
Durham Police is drawing up details on the Heroin-Assisted Treatment (HAT) service, which is aimed at cutting drug-related crime.
Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg said he was working with public health partners on cost options for the proposal, which can cost £15,000 a year for each addict, and added he hoped something would be in place by the end of the year.
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He said: “There is a good solid basis of evidence for this. There was a study about six years ago which involved the same concept in Darlington, London and Brighton.
“It showed it allowed addicts to get back into recovery much more quickly and it reduced their offending. It reduced blood born diseases and there was a reduction in the number of needles on the street.
“When I first stood for election I said I would always support evidence based strategy and we have a very strong evidence bases I’m happy to stand by.
“It’s a cost-effective use of police money.”
The study in Darlington, run by Kings College London between 2006 and 2011, involved heroin addicts being given medical grade heroin – known as diamorphine – under supervised conditions.
Mr Hogg said: “We did see a crime reduction but just as important is getting people back into normal lifestyles. Each addict is a human being and is suffering tremendously because of that addiction.
“It really is a very sensible approach which will help them and reduce crime.”
Mr Hogg said an option could be to run it from six existing drug and alcohol recovery hubs around County Durham, including in Durham, Peterlee, Consett and Newton Aycliffe.
It would be targeted at a small number of prolific offenders, he said.
“It’s not suitable for everyone. We’re not considering putting 2,000 people on the scheme. It’s very focussed,” he said.
“It’s suitable for certain groups of people so we’re looking at people who are prolific offenders. Having an addiction can cost £300 a week so they commit a lot of offence to raise that money.
“There is also an assessment of individuals to make sure they have the right predisposition to recovery. It really will be very targeted.”
He added that the time scale and size of project would depend on costs but added he would like to see something in place by the end of the year.
He is working with public health departments at Durham County Council and Darlington Borough Council to come up with a costed options paper.
Durham Chief Constable Mike Barton has backed the idea but said he was leaving the design of the scheme to Mr Hogg.
He said: “The police are here to cut crime and this is a proven and effective way of doing it.
“Methadone is more effective than heroin so giving heroin to addicts makes it easier to kick the habit which is how we cut crime.
“You don’t have to be a police officer to know that people who are addicted to heroin steal a lot, including from their own families. Police officers have to deal with the victims of this crime every day.”
Experts say HAT is initially more expensive than methadone programmes but is more cost-effective in the long-term as costs are offset by savings in criminal justice and health care.
Studies have found HAT treatment to be effective among groups of people who have repeatedly failed to respond to methadone programmes.
It involved patients typically receiving heroin two or three times a day for around a month before moving into rehabilitation.