Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Heroin on the NHS?

Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has called for an increase in the prescription of diamorphine (also known as heroin) on the NHS.

The British Medical Association say Afghanistan's opium-poppy harvest should be used to tackle an NHS shortage of diamorphine.

Diamorphine is used to relieve pain after operations and for the terminally ill. Due to a shortage doctors are having to rely on less effective drugs.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said: "If we actually were harvesting this drug from Afghanistan rather than destroying it, we'd be benefiting the population of Afghanistan as well as helping patients and not putting people at risk. There must be ways of harvesting it and making sure that the harvest safely reaches the drug industry which would then refine it into diamorphine. It should be possible, and really government and the international groups that are in Afghanistan should be looking at this and saying how can we convert it from being an illicit crop to a legal crop that is medicinally useful."

Dr Jonathan Fielden, a consultant in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine in Reading, said: "The biggest difficulty will be changing the views of those countries, particularly the US, where this drug is banned. That will take a great cultural change to let them realise that a very cheap drug, easily produced, beneficial to patients, can be brought back in and used, rather than being seen as a drug of abuse."

The Afghan authorities and the UK government are against using the poppy crop to produce medicines and are stepping up their efforts to destroy new crops.

Diamorphine is still in limited supply more than two years after the government was warned there were serious shortages. The amount being used in the NHS is a fraction of what it was before the current problems with supplies began.

Q. Should the Afghan poppy crop be used to produce diamorphine and prescribed on the NHS to Heroin addicts?

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