A pilot program in England in which heroin is given to chronic drug addicts has reportedly been successful in curbing drug use and reducing crime. So the question is -- should a similar program be imported to the United States?
Acoording to the BBC, the program, which is partly funded by the goverment, began in 2005, and involves 127 heroin users who have tried conventional treatment, but repeatedly failed. A third of them were given heroin to inject, another third took the heroin substitute methadone orally, and the final third injected methadone -- all of this under medical supervision.
Those given the actual heroin responded best. Three-quarters of that group said they "substantially" reduced their level of street drug use. And since much of the money to pay for street drugs comes from committing crimes, that means crime has been reduced.
In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that between half and two-thirds of all crime is drug related. Here in the United States, around 18% of convicted committed their crimes in order to obtain money for drugs, according to Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. In addition, in 2007 4% of all murders were drug related, and 26% of victims of crime said their assailant was on drugs or drunk at the time the crime was committed against them.
In the British study, the group who injected heroin admitted to committing a combined 1731 crimes in the month before the program started. After six months of supervised drug use, they committed 547 crimes, a drop of more than two-thirds.
"It's as if each of them is an oil tanker heading for disaster and so the purpose of this trial is to see: 'Can you turn them around? Is it possible to avert disaster?,'" said Professor John Strang, who headed the project. "And the surprising finding - which is good for the individuals and good for society as well - is that you can."
The addicts themselves said the program is life-transforming. One man named John had been addicted to heroin for eight years. He fed his habit by dealing drugs. "My life was just a shambles... waking up, chasing money, chasing drug."
But now John says his life has turned around, and he even has a part-time job. "It used to be about chasing the buzz, but when you go on the programme you just want to feel comfortable.
"I've started reducing my dose gradually, so that maybe in a few months time I'll be able to come off it altogether, drug free totally."
The results sound promising, but would such a program fly in the United States? People got all bent out of shape when some cities proposed giving clean needles to addicts to curb the spread of AIDS in the 1990s. So how would they react to giving people the heroin to fill those needles?
And what about the money? In these extremely difficult economic times where people are losing their jobs left and right, should the government be spending money on heroin? Instead of going to drug addicts, shouldn't that money go towards fixing the economy, so hard working Americans can get their jobs back?
But if it cuts crime, and results in a better life for all people, isn't it worth it? What do you think?