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The Insider title

Heroin on the NHS

3 August 2007

Dr Clive Froggatt argues that the Government must prescribe heroin if it is to stand any chance of beating the drugs problem that costs this country billions of pounds every year.

Dr Clive Froggatt was a consultant to a succession of Conservative Health Secretaries and Margaret Thatcher's advisor on NHS reform. Dr Froggatt, who was a secret heroin addict, was forced to resign from his advisory role when he was discovered faking prescriptions to feed his habit. He argues, from a very personal perspective, that the Government must prescribe heroin if it is to stand any chance of beating the drugs problem that costs this country billions of pounds every year.

Half of Britain's crime is drug-related and seventy per cent of prisoners are inside for drug-related offences. The Government is spending £3m a day battling drug addiction, but drugs have never been more readily available and heroin addiction is rising fast. Dr Froggatt is convinced that by prescribing addicts heroin, all our lives would be transformed.

Many addicts spend their life on the street using crime, including theft and prostitution, to fund their addiction. An addiction which Dr Froggatt argues usually masks deeper problems. Clive himself suffered childhood abuse and like other addicts he meets while making The Insider , he used heroin to ease deep-seated mental and emotional problems.

In Brighton, Dr Froggatt talks to interior designer Kate Mayne whose 20-year-old daughter Hannah is an addict. Kate has spent more than £40,000 in private clinics trying in vain to get her daughter clean, but the UK's current drug policy means that Hannah can't get therapy until she stops using heroin.

As a doctor, Froggatt argues that denying addicts their heroin is like refusing a diabetic their insulin. Rather than prescribing methadone - a drug which is even more addictive than heroin, makes addicts feel sluggish and often doesn't stop addicts "topping up" with street heroin - he says that prescribing heroin would allow addicts to live a more stable life off the streets.

And he's not the only one with this view. Many police and medical experts now believe that the UK's drug problem can only be dealt with effectively by taking the supply of drugs out of the control of the criminals. One of those is former Chief Constable Tom Lloyd. He tells The Insider that the current system frustrates the police, is a complete failure and that the only way to reduce crime is to prescribe heroin to addicts.

The government does allow the NHS to prescribe heroin to a few hundred addicts who have special medical needs. Dr Froggatt talks to Erin O'Mara, who has been prescribed heroin for the last year. It has enabled her to turn her life around; safe in the knowledge she can have as much heroin as she wants, rather than taking more, Erin is gradually decreasing her intake.

But there is another way. In the European countries where heroin is available legally, drug addiction has dropped radically. Fifteen years ago Switzerland had one of the highest rates of drug addiction and Aids in Europe. But in a radical change to the drugs laws, heroin use was decriminalised and the drug became available on prescription. The results have been astonishing. Addiction has dropped by a massive ninety per cent - with an eighty per cent drop in new users - and drug crime and deaths have also fallen dramatically.

Prescribing heroin has largely eradicated the Swiss drug problem, with the average age for an addict rising to 40. Back in the UK, the opposite is happening. There is an explosion of heroin addiction amongst teenagers. As Dr Froggatt concludes, politicians need to be brave, and take similar measures to the Swiss if this country is to have any chance of moving on from 30 years of failure.

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