The horrors of heroin addiction have been well-documented recently.
Despite its gradual decline amongst users, especially younger ones, who have swapped to novel psychoactive substances (commonly known as legal-highs), the UK still has a heroin problem and the dangers of overdose and needle-sharing still plague this population.
Heroin, like so many other illegal drugs, can never be taken safely BUT it can be made safer.
A new Government initiative that allows the NHS and other registered addiction treatment providers to be able to provide foil to addicts so that they smoke the drug, or to use the street slang ‘chase the dragon’, rather than inject it has been launched.
The aluminium foil is different from shop bought foil which contains vegetable oil that can give off toxic fumes when ingested…
It will no doubt attract its share of critics claiming that it legitimises drug use, in the same way needle exchanges did when they were introduced (where addicts can swap their old used needles for new ones). But it has many benefits.
Smoking, rather than injecting, heroin lessens the risk of contracting BBVs (blood born viruses such as hepatitis B, C or HIV). It is estimated nearly 50 per cent of injecting users have one or more of these along with other medical issues such as vein and soft tissue damage, open cuts, ulcers and sores.
The initiative will also encourage users to engage with treatment services such as the West Kent Recovery Service that works in partnership with the RSA.
They can be put on substitute medication such as methadone or suboxone; this can also be very addictive but is generally safer than staying on heroin. Usage can be regulated and reduced under medical supervision until the goal of abstinence is achieved.
Smoking also reduces the risk of accidental overdose. Thousands of people have died from addiction over the past decade and if this saves just a few lives and helps a few people ‘kick the habit’ then it is a positive move.
Abstinence is not achievable for everyone but harm reduction strategies, such as these, should be and MUST be welcomed.