Drug Addicts To Be Given Free Paraphernalia To Help The Fight Against Heroin

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Drugs paraphernalia will be given to heroin users for free by the government in a bid to help them kick the habit and reduce the number of lives devastated by addiction.

Health bodies hope the "positive step" will encourage users to inhale rather than inject class A substances - thereby avoiding the risk of contracting diseases such as HIV.

Health professionals are currently prevented from issuing the foil, but will legally be allowed to do so once the change comes into force next month. It will apply both to the NHS and privately run treatment centres.

Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said that by allowing foil to be legally provided by healthcare professionals Britain is "taking another positive step in reducing the number of individuals, families and communities whose lives are destroyed by drugs."

Mr Baker said the decision was made on the condition that it is part of structured efforts to get individuals off drugs and encourage more addicts to engage with support services.

Crime prevention minister Norman Baker

"It is also part of a range of work the coalition Government is doing to reduce and prevent illegal drug use - helping dependent individuals through treatment, educating young people about the risks and supporting law enforcement in tackling the illicit trade," he added.

But Peter Reynolds of the UK drug charity Clear, told the Huffington Post UK these were "welcome but timid moves" and called for drug legalisation.

"They are the bare minimum that we should expect," he said. "Let's not forget, it was Margaret Thatcher who introduced needle exchange when HIV became a problem.

"All politicians should follow the evidence whatever their political persuasion. If Nick Clegg was to demonstrate just a smidgin of courage and measure up to being a 'Liberal Democrat', he would commit to full decriminalisation of all drugs and a regulated market for cannabis.

"The evidence is there to support such reforms and they would have a real impact in reducing harm and making the best use of resources," Mr Reynolds added.

Mr Fox, of the drugs charity Release, added the move is "indicative of just how behind the UK is on drug policy issues."

"The fact that it has taken the government so long to introduce such a small measure is embarrassing and shows just how out of touch the government is on drug policy issues," he told HuffPost UK.

"This is a step in the right direction for harm reduction measures, but one that should have been taken long ago."

The Government's decision to provide addicts with paraphernalia comes after the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concluded last year that offering foil can help the eventual recovery of addicts.

Drug-related deaths in England and Wales have continued to fall since 2009 and there has been a long-term downward trend in drug use over the last decade.

Recent figures suggest nearly 300,000 people in the UK still use heroin and crack cocaine, but that the figure is still a record low.

Estimates from 2013 show that the number of heroin and crack users in England has fallen from a peak of 332,090 in 2005-06 to 298,752 in 2010-11, with numbers injecting drugs also down from 129,977 to 93,401 over the same period.

The decline confirms that the status and popularity of heroin is clearly waning and is echoed by sharp annual falls in estimates of users under 25, down 5,000 to 41,508, and those in the 25-to-35 age group, down 8,000 to 113,466.

The new developments come as Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg announced he will pledge to abolish prison sentences for the possession of drugs for personal use - even Class A substances like heroin and cocaine.

The Deputy Prime Minister will make the controversial commitment as he outlines aspects of his party's manifesto.

Announcing the plan in an interview with The Sun newspaper, he said: "At the moment, we are doing an utterly senseless thing - chucking the people who need treatment behind bars so they simply become even more vulnerable to the criminal gangs who exploited them in the first place."

The commitment is for the next election and does not mark a change in Coalition policy, although the Liberal Democrats have secured a review into drugs policy which is currently under way at the Home Office.

The party believes the UK should approach the drug problem as a health rather than a law and order issue.

It claims that imprisonment does nothing to help addicts become drug free and is a waste of public money that could be better spent on tackling the problem in the community.

At the moment, more than 1,000 people a year in England and Wales are jailed for possession of drugs for their own personal use.

The manifesto will include a commitment to end the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use and move the drugs and alcohol policy lead from the Home Office to the Department of Health.

In addition, the party will promise to establish a commission to assess the effectiveness of current drugs laws and alternative approaches, including further work on diverting users into treatment or into civil penalties that do not attract a criminal record, which can seriously affect their chances of employment.