Norway will prescribe free heroin to its most serious addicts

Norway will prescribe free heroin to its most serious addicts to improve their quality of life

Free heroin will be prescribed to addicts to improve their quality of life, announces Norwegian Government

  • Trial programme will start as soon as 2020 and may benefit up to 400 addicts
  • Supporters claim it will lower death rates among addicts and reduce crime
  • Similar programmes are on trial or underway elsewhere in Scandinavia
  • Norway has one of the highest drug overdose rates in Europe at 81 per million
  • Compared to around 66.1/million dying from drug poisoning in 2017 in the UK
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Norway will prescribe free heroin to its most serious addicts to improve their quality of life, its Government has announced.

The trial programme may begin as soon as 2020 and could benefit up to 400 addicts.

Although controversial, supporters of such schemes, which are used elsewhere in Scandinavia, argue they reduce death and crime rates.

Writing on Facebook, Norway’s health minister Bente Hoie said: ‘We hope that this will provide a solution that will give… a better quality of life to some addicts who are today out of our reach and whom current programmes do not help enough.’

The Norwegian Directorate for Health and Social Affairs will come up with a plan to identify patients who would benefit from such a programme.

Due to the details of the Norwegian scheme still being decided it is unclear how much heroin the clinics will prescribe, however, in other regions with the same systems, prescriptions vary depending on the extent of an addict’s dependency.

Norway has one of the highest drug overdose rates in Europe, with such deaths killing 81 people per one million in 2015. 

Although exact overdose death rates in the UK are unknown, 66.1 people per one million passed away from drug poisoning in 2017 in England and Wales. Drug poisoning can also include murders or driving fatalities while under the influence.

Norway will prescribe free heroin to its serious addicts to improve their quality of life (stock)

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A supplement derived from cannabis may help alcohol and cocaine addicts overcome their cravings, research suggested in March 2018.

Recovering rats given cannabidiol (CBD) are less likely to relapse when exposed to drugs, a study, by the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, found.

This is thought to be due to the supplement easing anxiety and stress, as well as reducing impulsive behaviour, according to the researchers.

After just three days of receiving CBD, recovering rats are still less likely to relapse five months later, the study found.

The researchers hope the findings will assist in the development of treatments to prevent human drug relapses.

CBD is a cannabis-derived nutritional supplement that is thought to possess a range of medicinal benefits and has been reported to help people suffering from migraines, psoriasis, acne and depression.

Legal in the UK, it does not contain any THC, which is the psychoactive component of marijuana that makes users ‘high’.

Speaking of the findings, lead author Dr Friedbert Weiss said: ‘The efficacy of the CBD to reduce reinstatement in rats with both alcohol and cocaine – and, as previously reported, heroin – histories predicts therapeutic potential for addiction treatment across several classes of abused drugs.

‘The results provide proof of principle supporting the potential of CBD in relapse prevention along two dimensions: beneficial actions across several vulnerability states and long-lasting effects with only brief treatment.

Where else is heroin given to addicts? And what are the benefits?

Since 2010, addicts in Denmark have been offered the illicit drug for free at so-called heroin clinics, providing they have previously been treated for their dependencies.

According to the Danish National Board of Health, heroin clinics reduce the number of time police spend investigating drug crimes by a third and increase the number of addicts finding permanent homes by 30 per cent.

Such clinics also prevent addicts abusing other drugs, with them drinking 50 per cent less alcohol and Valium use going down by around a third, the board adds.

Katrine Schepelern Johansen, from the University of Copenhagen, who studied the effects of heroin clinics, told Science Nordic: ‘Some of the users have better contact with their families. Some have started to do sports as part of the treatment and others have found the energy to take care of their own physical illnesses.’

A Swiss study, where heroin clinics are also used, found such programmes remove four per cent of the most problematic addicts from the streets every year. 

What are the drawbacks?  

Despite studies suggesting heroin clinics’ success, such programmes also appear to have drawbacks.

Ms Johansen explained: ‘Users are frustrated about having to show up at the clinic twice a day every day of the week, and that they’re being monitored before, during and after treatment.’

Many medical staff who work at such clinics also face a moral dilemma due to them being used to giving medication with the intention of healing.

How is the heroin prescribed?

Although the details of Norway’s heroin programme are unclear, in Swiss clinics such prescriptions are given out to addicts once or twice a day under medical supervision.

The drugs prescribed have a known strength and purity, are free of contaminants and are administered via clean injecting equipment.

Australia, France, Germany and Canada also have similar schemes. 

The trial programme may begin as soon as 2020 and could benefit up to 400 addicts (stock)

Doctors call for heroin, cocaine and cannabis to be made legal 

This comes after doctors called for heroin, cocaine and cannabis to be legalised last April.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP), which represents 26,000 medics in the UK, said it: ‘strongly supports the view that drug addiction must be considered a health issue first and foremost.’

Rather than being punished, the RCP believes drug users should be offered support and ‘timely’ treatment.

The death rate from illegal drug overdoses in the UK has more than doubled in the past decade, with over two in three people not knowing where to get help if they were battling an addiction, according to the report ‘Taking a New Line on Drugs’.

The RCP said: ‘These figures demonstrate a clear need for physical, psychological and social support and care for people addicted to drugs.’

This comes after analyses suggest heroin and crack users are dying of overdoses in the areas of England where cuts to drug-treatment budgets are greatest. 

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