Professor Martin Schechter from the University of British Columbia in Canada has claimed that prescribing heroin to addicts who are trying to beat their addiction could be cheaper and more effective than replacement therapy.
Currently, patients are either given methadone to wean them off the drug or they’re put through detoxification and abstinence programmes. Schechter has argued however that there is ‘overwhelming’ evidence to suggest that these standard treatments don’t work for a section of addicts.
The claim comes after six randomised controlled trials found that heroin-assisted treatment was more effective for patients who had found standard therapy to be ineffective. The professor also highlighted a recent review which concluded that medically supervised use of the drug can improve compliance whilst reducing illicit use, crime, imprisonment and the likelihood of death.
Schechter did recognise that diamorphine (pure heroin) can be up to four times more expensive than methadone but said that it works out cheaper in the long run because of the associated costs and the duration of the treatment.
This is backed up by a trial in the Netherlands which showed that heroin assisted therapy made overall savings of nearly £10,000 per patient every year. The professor commented:
“Treatments like this represent the holy grail of medical research seeking to support a sustainable health system: they achieve better outcomes at lower overall cost.”
Although Schechter has said that he would like to see these savings put into addiction prevention programmes and other associated schemes, he has argued that he agrees conventional treatment should still be the first port of call for addicts. If treatment is ineffective however then heroin should be prescribed safely by doctors at specialised clinics.
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