Heroin prescription for heroin addiction – an English view
Abstract:Carnwath T. Heroin prescription for heroin addiction – an English view.
Heroin has been prescribed in England for the treatment of heroin addiction for almost 100 years. For many years, England was almost the only country where this occurred, and the British system was consequently the subject of international curiosity. In spite of this long history, very little research has been carried out locally, and until recently, there were no guidelines as to best practice. In 1965, it was decided that only doctors with a Home Office license could prescribe heroin. Since that time, the proportion of opiate addicts treated with heroin has greatly diminished, as has the number of doctors willing to prescribe. One doctor in particular remained an enthusiastic proponent of heroin prescription. His claims impressed some Swiss clinicians, who proceeded to establish a multicentre trial in Switzerland. This was followed by a similar trial in the Netherlands. These trials apparently indicated that a proportion of treatment-resistant opiate addicts could respond well to heroin, although the researchers' conclusions have been disputed. The National Treatment Agency in England is now developing guidelines for good practice based on this new information and is planning to set up some pilot sites. It is likely that practise in England will remain somewhat different from continental practice, particularly with respect to long-term supervised injecting. It is unclear how much funding will be released to support heroin prescription. Without adequate funding, it is likely to disappear.