The Lancet Publishes Study Finding That Prescription Heroin is Effective at Reducing Street Heroin Use

Press Release May 27, 2010
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Laura Thomas at 415-283-6366 or Tommy McDonald at 646-335-2242</p>

Today The Lancet published results of a study showing that prescribed heroin is successful at reducing street heroin use for people chronically addicted to opiates. The authors called for the provision of heroin assisted treatment in the UK by the government. Street heroin use exposes people to criminal sanctions, violence, overdose, HIV and hepatitis, and other harms, and reducing use of illicit drugs is a primary goal of treatment. Such results are consistent with results from similar trials in other countries. Prescribed heroin, or heroin assisted treatment, has the potential to help the estimated one million people in North America dependent on opiates.

"The results are clear that prescription heroin works for those people for whom methadone alone is not enough." said Laura Thomas, Deputy State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Many people succeed on methadone, and it should be widely available, but for those for whom it doesn't work, prescribed heroin can be effective. The only reason heroin assisted treatment isn't available in the United States right now is politics. The science is there."

The Randomised Injectable Opiate Treatment Trial (RIOTT) was a randomized, controlled clinical trial conducted in three cities in the United Kingdom starting in 2005. It compared oral and injectable methadone to injectable pharmaceutical heroin for the ability to reduce use of street heroin. Participants were long-term users of opiates, with an average of nearly 17 years of injecting drugs and almost 10 years in treatment, including methadone. All were in methadone treatment at the beginning of the study. Participants in the heroin arm had significantly better outcomes, including less use of street drugs.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said "The success of RIOTT, combined with similar results in other countries, leaves little question that heroin prescription would work in the United States as well. Recent votes in Germany and Switzerland, combined with similar evidence of public support in other countries, show that the public will support even controversial drug policies when they have proven results. There is no question that heroin prescription programs are needed and long overdue in this country. All that stands in the way is ideology and the backward assumption that it can never happen in the United States."

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