Best cure for heroin addiction is… heroin?

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Correction appended

A D.C. councilmember joined doctors and drug experts to discuss a controversial treatment for heroin addiction Wednesday night in the Jack Morton Auditorium.

Councilmember Tommy Wells, who represents Ward 6, said that the surge of heroin use and cases of HIV in the District is a crisis that demands an aggressive and maybe even unconventional approach to combat – treatment for heroin addiction with heroin itself.

“Sometimes, when an idea seems really radical and challenging, I think we are required to take a look and consider its possibilities,” Wells said.

Heroin-assisted treatment – the subject of the event, sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance and the School of Public Health and Health Services – is intended for long-term addicts who have repeatedly attempted unsuccessfully to quit using other programs.

Wells’ endorsement of the treatment is significant, because both legislators and the public usually oppose this type of treatment for drug users, making his support for the program politically risky.

Under the supervision of medical professionals, users are provided with prescription heroin in a controlled, clinical environment as an alternative to buying and using drugs on the street.

Although this type of treatment has existed in Europe for years and been proven to reduce crime and improve public health, it has not been widely accepted in the United States.

“We let thousands of our fellow citizens die because we were not doing what our fellow countries are doing to help addicts,” panelist Ethan Nadelmann, founder and director of the DPA, said.

The panelists said that Americans are resistant to heroin-assisted treatment because of the intense stigma surrounding drug users

Still, the DPA said they are determined to bring the programs to this country, where they can help people who they say the current system has failed.

“I feel like I’m not going to stop and I’m not going to let my colleagues stop until we are having people receiving heroin maintenance therapy in the United States of America,” Nadelmann said.

The article has been revised to reflect the following correction (Jan. 22, 2010):

The article originally stated that Wells’ endorsed the heroin-assisted treatment option. In fact, Wells did not fully endorse the treatment, but suggested that it is an option to be considered.

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