Scheme: The first large-scale UK trial of intravenous treatment for opiate addiction
Funding: £500,000 from the Community Fund over three years
Objectives: To research the effectiveness of the treatment and, if successful, recommend its national use to the Government
A controversial three-year study to stabilise 100 drug users with the injection of heroin has been backed by £500,000 from the Community Fund - the largest amount it has ever awarded to a research project.
Research charity Action on Addiction will provide intravenous methadone and heroin to drug users in south London who haven't responded to oral treatments. This amounts to around 10 per cent of addicts.
It is hoped that the research, which costs about £12,000 per patient, will show that they respond to the treatments and learn to control their addiction. The treatment might therefore be shown to cut crimes committed by users to fund their habits.
Given the contentious nature of the project, the charity is bracing itself for a backlash from some factions of the press. Camelot chairman Sir Michael Grade said earlier this month that the media furore over the £336,261 grant given to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, which assisted asylum seekers, cost the lottery £1m per week.
Frances Dixon-Wright, information and research co-ordinator at the drug research charity, said the scheme had already received "the Daily Mail treatment" in a news article, and doubted that further publicity could endanger the scheme, scheduled to start next July.
"We will fulfil our obligations to the fund, which is to provide a clinically attended experiment and certainly nothing like a shooting gallery, as it has been labelled in some coverage."
The charity believes the funding is well spent and may eventually pay dividends. Dixon-Wright said: "It could save the UK up to £250m a year by getting 10,000 addicts off the streets and into treatment."
Up to 150 people will be recruited for the scheme over the next six to nine months. Once signed up for treatment, patients will randomly be given either oral methadone with increased dosage, enhanced intravenous methadone, or heroin in clinical doses. The study will provide counselling and social support and measure participants' criminal activity and drop-out rates.
Nicky Metrebian, a research fellow at Imperial College, London, who recently co-wrote the report Prescribing heroin, where is the evidence? for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, welcomed the trial. "We need sound, robust, scientific evidence that injecting heroin is a useful treatment option."
The Home Office and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have also backed the scheme.