Heroin addicts will be given a free supply of the Class A drug by police as a way of preventing substance-related crime.
Durham Constabulary are the first force in the country to set aside money from its budget in the hope it stops users stealing to pay for their drugs and funding the income of illicit dealers.
Chief Constable Mike Barton told the Mail on Sunday about controversial plans to allow addicts to inject themselves twice a day in a supervised 'shooting gallery'.
He said the UK needs to get over its “moral panic”, but the move has drawn criticism with researchers stressing it will still make users dependant on the drug.
However, Mr Barton said the main priority for police is to prevent crime, and suggested that “addiction is a medical problem, not a criminal justice problem”.
He told the paper: “We need to get over our moral panic about giving people heroin as part of a treatment plan.
“Police were set up to prevent crime, not to arrest people.
"Our primary concern is to prevent crime. If we've got people who are addicted to Class A drugs committing crime, it makes good sense to get that person off drugs.
“Addiction is a medical problem, not a criminal justice problem.”
Currently, GPs treat heroin addicts by prescribing them with the substitute drug methadone. Anyone caught possessing heroin can be jailed for up to seven years.
The force was rated the best in England by watchdogs last week. Both Mr Barton and the county's Police and Crime Commissioner support the decriminalisation of drugs, claiming medical evidence suggests it is more effective to give heroin than methadone to addicts to help them get clean and stop committing crime.
Public health experts have been sought to give opinions on how the scheme, known as Heroin-Assisted Treatment, could operate, and its likely costs.
Critics argue it wouldn’t help addicts get clean.
Professor Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research, told the paper: “I think the worry here is that once you set up a centre like this, it will attract addicts and they will remain dependent on heroin, undermining services committed to getting people off drugs.
“I think it's extraordinary if the police budget is being used in this way.”
Tory MP David Burrowes, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, added: "I'm sure the public will be surprised and dismayed by this.
“It's one thing for public health money to be used in this way, but it's quite another for the overstretched policing budget.
“I'm sure this money could go to catching suppliers of drugs rather than propping up addicts.”
Similar plans are already under consideration in Scotland with a facility in Glasgow, having proved a success in Scandinavia, Australia and Canada.