Calls to make heroin available on the NHS to treat addiction

Needles found in a park in Bristol. Credit: ITV News

ITV News can reveal the number of people who have died as a result of drug abuse in Bristol has doubled in the last two years, from 33 in 2014, to 65 in 2016.

In Devon and Cornwall 424 people have died as a result of drug misuse.

The organisation Transform, which campaigns for the safe use of drugs, wants to introduce a programme called heroin assisted treatment to Bristol.

This would see addicts being prescribed heroin instead of substitution drugs like methodone, and injecting it in a supervised environment.

Transform says it will dramatically reduce the number of deaths from heroin overdoses.

“We have more people dying than ever before so we think it’s time to take a new approach to this. Heroin assisted treatment delivers a better outcome in terms of reducing crime, saving lives, saving money and delivering safer communities.”

Martin Powell, Transform

While we were out filming we saw users shooting up in public places, and witnessed dirty syringes left in parks and alleyways.

Ezme Riley’s son Freddy stood on a used needle while he was playing in a park in St Pauls. It went through the bottom of his trainer. Tests found he was clear of any infectious diseases. But it was a worrying time for his parents, who say this isn’t the first time they’ve come across drug paraphernalia while out playing.

"It was always a really big fear of mine, something like that happening. You do see needles up on the mound at the back there, and then along by the benches at the back there's always drug paraphenalia over there.It is a regular occurrence."

Ezme Riley, Mother
Ezme Riley and her children playing a park in St Pauls.

Cara’s partner Jake died of a heroin overdose three years ago. He was a recovering addict, but had relapsed into drug use.

Cara is part of a campaign group called Anyone’s Child. She believes that drug addiction should be treated as a medical problem rather than a criminal one.

  • Watch Jake's story below

The start up costs of heroin assisted treatment are high. But it’s been shown to save money long-term, benefitting police forces, councils and the NHS.

"Although the economic arguments are really clear - that heroin assisted treatment definitely saves lots of organisations - crime, health - lots of money, in Bristol at the moment drug and alcohol services have just lost ten per cent of funding and there's another ten per cent to come. So at a time when government is cutting funding to local authorities by a fifth I can only see that this would get off the ground if we have lots of different players putting money in."

Maggie Telfer, Bristol Drugs Project

However, Heroin assisted treatment is controversial, and many argue that it’s a step towards legalising a very dangerous drug. Avon and Somerset’s Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens says that while the force’s current drug policy gives users a second chance, that’s as far as she’s willing to go.

She said, "I am not into decriminalising drugs. I have seen the impact that drugs have when it destroys life, destroys hope, destroys opportunity. Drug law has to go through parliament and that will be the decision. What we are doing in Avon and Somerset is giving people a second chance, and if they blow that second chance they get prosecuted."

In Devon and Cornwall, there are concerns that this form of treatment wouldn’t suit the challenges faced by drug support workers.

"It's really much more suitable for large urban areas with large concentrations of drug users and a large issue there. So it's not a very cost effective solution for somewhere like Cornwall, or indeed many other places in the South West which have similar challenges around rurality and accessibility. This is a tough economic climate so we really try and make sure the tax payers money is used to its absolute maximum benefit."

James Sainsbury, Addaction

Alistair, a recovering heroin addict, used methodone to get clean. But it took several attempts, and he used the drug for 25 years. For him, prescribing heroin is an obvious solution to help wean people off a drug that’s one of the most addictive substances in the world.