The Randomised Injecting Opioid Treatment Trial (RIOTT) programme has just released its findings of a 4-year scheme in which heroin addicts were given free access to drugs in supervised, clinical conditions. Unsurprisingly, the scheme led to significant reductions in the crimes committed and street drugs taken by addicts, particularly when it was heroin, not methadone, given to them.

127 heroin users for whom conventional treatment had failed took part in the scheme, and the results clearly show that prohibiting an action is not the best method to make it go away. At the start of the trial addicts reported carrying out 1731 offences a month, but after six months this had fallen by 2/3 to 547. While participants spent on average £300 a week on street drugs at the start of the trial, by the end this had decreased to about £50. With pilot schemes taking place in London, Brighton and Darlington, the independent National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse concluded that the successes of the trial warranted the creation of further pilots.

Nearly two thirds of crime is drug-related, and the legalisation of heroin and other drugs will eradicate entire black markets and cause levels of petty crime to plummet. By legalising narcotics, the cost to society that their abuse causes is reduced. Transform Drug Policy’s latest report shows that if heroin was regulated the cost to society could drop by nearly 14bn due to a fall in the costs of crime, health and social care.

Heroin users are addicts that deserve treatment, just in the same way that alcoholics and those with mental health issues are given help and respect. When hooked on an illegal substance addicts are driven underground as they are treated as criminals, not patients. All evidence suggests that the UK should follow Portugal’s example by decriminalizing narcotics and bring addicts within the law to be treated as human beings, not scum on the bottom of our shoes that we wish wasn’t there.