THE 15 most hardcore heroin users in Middlesbrough are to be given medical-grade heroin in a clinic twice a day in a new scheme – the first of its kind in the country.

Plans were drawn up after research showed that the 20 worst offenders had committed more than 300 offences in two years, costing the tax payer around three quarters of a million pounds.

Following research, a pilot scheme was drawn up to focus on the 15 most ‘at risk’ drug users in Middlesbrough, for whom all other treatment has failed.

The Middlesbrough Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) programme aims to promote long-term recovery from addiction, reduce crimes among addicts, remove the health risks associated with street heroin and drug litter and free up police resources, as well as cutting off the funding stream to drugs gangs.

Under the programme, the addicts will visit a clinical facility twice a day where diamorphine - medical grade heroin - will be administered under supervision.

At the clinic, drug users can then speak to health, housing and welfare agencies.

The scheme has been organised and part funded by Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland Barry Coppinger, with the clinical team led by Daniel Ahmed of the Foundations Medical Practice.

Mr Ahmed said: “This treatment and recovery pilot is aimed at those for whom all other current methods have failed. They are on a cycle of offending, committing crime to raise funds for street heroin, being arrested and going to prison, being released and offending again. The cycle often only ends when they die, often in the street.

“Before joining the pilot, each of the cohort is medically assessed and the appropriate course of diamorphine is prescribed and administered under supervision daily at a specialist clinic. This removes the constant need to commit crime in order to fund street heroin addiction.”

Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, Barry Coppinger, said: “The policies of the past have failed. If we are serious about tackling and preventing addiction we need to listen to the experts, take notice of the evidence and act decisively.

“Police need to continue to relentlessly target the organised gangs and dealers behind the supply of street heroin and at the same time we need to provide effective treatment to release users from their snares and take early preventive action to prevent others becoming addicted.

“There are numerous studies that show HAT is cost-effective. In Middlesbrough the most prolific cohort of 20 drug-dependent offenders have cost the public purse almost £800,000 over two years – and that’s based only on crime detected.

“By removing street heroin from the equation you remove the need to commit crime to fund addiction and the impact this has on local residents and businesses, you remove the health risks of street heroin and the associated drugs litter and you remove the drain on public services including health and police. In addition you halt the flow of funding to drugs gangs.

“Once treatment is underway the cohort can engage at the clinic with partner agencies such as health, housing and welfare to hopefully rebuild their lives, re-engage with family, if appropriate, and become contributing members of society.”

The pilot will be independently evaluated and, if successful, Mr Coppinger intends to use funding from the Proceeds of Crime Act to extend it for a second year and across all four boroughs of Cleveland.

“Currently we receive just 18% of the money seized under POCA to use in crime prevention. I will be pressing the Home Office for a greater share of this in future so this pilot can be extended. It would be justice in action to see the money seized from organised crime and drugs gangs used to bring lasting benefit to the communities where they have caused most harm.”