Middlesbrough's pioneering heroin scheme ends despite proving its worth, says boss

Middlesbrough heroin assisted treatment programme Credit: PA Media

The UK’s first treatment scheme to give entrenched addicts medical grade heroin has been shut down despite its clinical lead insisting it worked.

The Diamorphine Assisted Treatment (DAT) programme in Middlesbrough came to an end on Tuesday 6 December due to a lack of funding.

The programme selected some of the town’s most troubled addicts and gave them twice daily doses of heroin, taken in a safe environment, to reduce the number of drug deaths, aid long-term recovery and reduce acquisitive crime.

Clinical lead Danny Ahmed said independent analysis of the scheme, which began in October 2019, showed it had achieved its aims.

It was initially largely funded by the Office of the Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, and since March, it has run under reduced funding from the Government’s Operation Adder, set up to reduce fatal drug overdoses.

Mr Ahmed said: “This is a very sad day.

“We were tasked with finding an evidence based, cost effective treatment that worked.

“We have done that, but it hasn’t been enough.

“We don’t need any more trials, we know if you want to treat entrenched street heroin use this is one of the ways to do it.

“I feel we have been a victim of a failure of commissioning.”

The scheme saved public funds in terms of health and the criminal justice system, but DAT was unable to gain “cross-sector commissioning”, he said.

Existing patients will now transfer to other treatment programmes, though Mr Ahmed feared they will not be as effective and risked them going back to buying street heroin.

Mr Ahmed said he hoped the scheme could be revived.

“We now have this experience behind us, we have a lot of knowledge on how best to treat entrenched heroin use and we would be ready to launch again if funding could be found,” he said.

After the news of the closure was announced, James Fowler, who was a heroin addict for 20 years, told ITV News Tyne Tees in October: "I really don’t think [the clinic should be closed], because it’s going to be bad enough people going out there, committing crime and causing problems.

"You’re just adding more fuel to the fire really. It saved my life and I can’t stress that enough, so it helped me find a way out and I believe it would have helped other people find their way out as well."

One clinic-user, who wished to remain anonymous, previously told ITV Tyne Tees that he is particularly concerned about its withdrawal, as the stresses of the cost of living crisis are getting to him and he does not know if he might be tempted back onto the drugs.

He said: "It’s like taking the rug from under our feet, you know. I’ve spent a long time building up my self confidence and my mental health.

"This is going to kill people basically, whether through suicide or overdose. I think I’m ok today, but I don’t know what I’m going to be like tomorrow or the day after.

"I don’t want to think about it to be honest with you. I’m scared."

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