A pilot scheme to give a town’s 15 worst addicts two daily doses of medical grade heroin is to start next week at a cost of about £250,000 a year.
The treatment plan in Middlesbrough, the first of its kind in the country, is aimed at preventing drug deaths, cutting crime and saving hundreds of thousands of pounds in the public services that are currently taken up by people living chaotically.
The town has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in the country, and people in Middlesbrough are more likely to die from drugs than a car accident.
Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger, whose office is part-funding the scheme, said it was time for a new approach and has only been put in place following careful study of other projects around the world.
The Heroin Assisted Treatment (Hat) programme has been set up with Home Office backing and will run for 12 months.
Addicts with the worst health and crime records have been selected for the programme, which will operate seven days a week.
They will attend a supervised clinic to inject prepared doses of Swiss-made diamorphine, in a clean environment with single-use equipment.
After taking the drug they will be encouraged to speak to staff to help them with their addictions, mental health, housing and other problems.
Mr Coppinger said: “I think the scheme will make a real difference.
“This is about people who have the most chaotic lives, severely addicted to drugs.
“We have the highest rate of drug-related deaths in the country.
“This is about getting people’s lives back on track.”
The cost of running the pilot was about £250,000, including the health professionals’ input.
He said a recent study found that the policing costs incurred by the crime committed by 20 Middlesbrough addicts over two years was £800,000, or £20,000 each per year – and that was only for detected offences.
About nine out of ten acquisitive crimes have been linked to drugs. And it was hoped that by giving addicts free diamorphine, organised criminals would lose out.
Those chosen for the scheme will already have gone through a drug-replacement programme which will not have worked.
Clinical lead Daniel Ahmed said drug treatment programmes should be like other strands of the medical profession, where a new plan is considered if the first has not worked.
He said: “This treatment and recovery pilot is aimed at those for whom all other current methods have failed.
“They are on a cycle of offending, committing crime to raise funds for street heroin, being arrested and going to prison, being released and offending again.
“The cycle often only ends when they die, often in the street.”