On Oct. 14 CNN's "American Morning" aired a segment about the controversial program that "gives heroin to heroin addicts at the taxpayers' expense." Correspondent Paula Newton declared, "A safe, steady supply of heroin is apparently just what the doctor ordered ... As radical as it is, for some it is really working." She also said that the British government's decision to dole out 97 percent pure heroin - "better than anything sold on the street" - "takes heroin off the streets."
John Strang, a member of King's Health Partners claimed that the "intensity of the program is quite striking. The bond that is formed and the commitment that's established between the patient coming in for treatment and the staff is far greater than you'd ever ordinarily see." Not surprisingly, King's Health Partners is affiliated with Britain's National Health Services.
Newton summarized the rest of Strang's interview:
The key seems to be treating heroin addiction like any other illness, and then having the patience to see the treatment through - even if that means the government is the drug dealer of choice for months, if not years.
That should comfort British taxpayers, who are shelling out $22,000 per year per addict for the program.
Although Newton mentioned in passing that "the jury is still out on this study as to what it actually does to get people off heroin permanently and get clean," she cited the study's claim that the program had reduced "street heroin by three-quarters and the crimes committed in trying to get that drug by two-thirds."
"Taking heroin off the streets is making a difference," Newton declared.
But if Newton had given any air time to critics of the program, its faults would have been glaringly obvious.
Susie Squire, the Political Director at the U.K.'s TaxPayers' Alliance, voiced the worst of it back in Septemper:
Many taxpayers will have a massive problem paying for addicts' heroin, particularly at a time when the NHS is unable to provide them with doctor's appointments or life-saving cancer drugs.
This approach also reflects a poverty of ambition, with the Government merely accepting hard drug use and instead of trying to crack down and stamp it out, giving out lethal drugs for free.
Heroin addicts attend a clinic twice a day to inject themselves with diamorphine - the medical term for heroin - in the hope that their addiction will fade away. Some liken the idea to making children available to pedophiles in order to help them overcome their problem.
Reminiscent of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," a blogger recommended this solution: "Perhaps the children taken off mothers that Barnardos [a UK children's protection service] disapproves of can be given to the kiddy fiddlers and then another problem will be solved." Another blogger quipped, "If the government gives me money then I promise to stop stealing it."
Mary Brett, the U.K . representative of Europe Against Drugs, feared that the program "will start with the most hardcore cases, but treatment services will find it easier to just give them a prescription, and more and more will be included in this scheme."
Indeed, Russia, which has a notorious drug reputation, refuses to even consider implementing the program, stating that methadone - the heroin substitute used to wean addicts - "could seep into the black market, given the high level of corruption at many Russian clinics."
Proponents of the program argue that, since it began in 2005, it has been extraordinarily successful in fighting illegal drug rings and drug related crimes. Of course it's rarely mentioned that the program only involved 127 heroin addicts. Theodore Dalrymple, a diehard critic of "drug maintenance programs" and author of "Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy," said:
The patients are self-selected: they have some motivation to change, otherwise they would not have attended the clinic in the first place. Only a minority of addicts attend, and therefore it is not safe to conclude that, if other addicts were to receive methadone, their criminal activity would similarly diminish.
In fact, the study's coordinators had difficulty recruiting volunteers because the eligibility criteria and demands of the program were so stringent.
Furthermore, Dalrymple suggested that the real difference between the before and after crime rate could be "considerably less" because "the patients have an incentive to exaggerate it to secure the continuation of their methadone."
As proof, other countries that have implemented similar programs with larger groups have reported little if any success. Neil McKeganey, of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University, pointed out that in Scotland 22,000 people are on methadone but there has been no "linked reduction in crime or in the deaths of addicts."
Even parts of England that have participated in drug maintenance programs have failed to improve. For example, in Liverpool 2,000 people are prescribed methadone for their drug addictions but it's still the world capital of drug-motivated burglary.
In fact, the program could actually do more harm than good. A shocking 2007 Justice Department study discovered that buprenorphine - another opium derivative that was being used to treat heroin addicts in prison - became the third drug of choice for addicts after marijuana and heroin itself. Similar studies discovered that buprenorphine was 15 times as addictive as heroin.
But even if the program isn't helping drug abusers kick their habits, the government argues that at least it's having a big impact on crime ... or is it? The British government views an addict as "a person who is ill, like someone with pneumonia, whom it is the duty of the system - the paraphernalia of doctors, nurses, social workers, drug counselors and so forth - to cure." Therefore, the government believes that if it gives addicts free needles, then they won't "steal, rob, and burgle." But the premise is wrong.
The majority of heroin addicts already had an extensive criminal record before they tried heroin for the first time. In other words, criminality is more likely to cause addiction than addiction is to cause criminality.
So if this program doesn't cure addicts and it doesn't prevent crime, what other options are there?
First, drug addiction needs to be viewed as a choice, not an illness. Mao Zedong, the former leader of China, cured 20 million opium addicts over just one weekend by announcing that anyone still addicted would be shot on Monday. Dalrymple gave a less extreme example with the "huge numbers of American servicemen addicted ... to heroin during the Vietnam war." He said:
Almost all of them gave up spontaneously soon after their return to the US, and two years later their rate of addiction was no higher than that among drafted conscripts who never made it to Vietnam because the war ended.
And addiction doesn't come from a one-time adventure, or even a few episodes. In fact, addicts usually spend a year intermittently using heroin before they decide to use it regularly.
Addiction is a choice, and with that choice, the responsibility falls on the addicts - not the government - to walk away from that disastrous life. Perhaps that's why drug abstinence programs are more successful than drug maintenance programs. The addict has made the choice and "maintaining" even small doses of the drug isn't acceptable.
It's hard to believe that with this much information easily accessible via Internet that CNN couldn't present even a small portion of the other side of the story.