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Heroin Addicts

Volume 449: debated on Monday 17 July 2006

As most heroin addicts lead chaotic, unstructured lives, they are not well represented in national surveys of drug use, so the best information that we have relates to those who are in contact with services. The mean age of individuals in treatment in England in 2004-05, with heroin recorded as the main drug of use, is 31.

In my constituency, among the 400 former addicts treated by GPs—80 per cent.—virtually all those under 30 receive treatment, as has been found in countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden. Can the Minister take a close look at how GP-led prescribing services have managed to get so many people into treatment? Will he also consider the add-on effect that virtually no young people or teenagers become heroin addicts, because the addict role models that they see are grisly old men?

I take on board what my hon. Friend says. The Government are working to ensure that comprehensive packages of support, not just in health but across the piece, are available to those who have come off drugs following treatment. As my hon. Friend does so much in his constituency in this regard, I am more than happy to meet him to discuss grisly old men further.

The Minister will know that probably tens of thousands of young people under 18 are heroin addicts. Given that anybody over 18 who is arrested for what is called a trigger offence, such as theft or burglary, is automatically put through a mandatory drugs test—which is a good thing—why does that requirement not apply to under-18s?

That is an interesting point, which I shall refer to those in the Home Office who are more directly involved in the policy than I am.

We should not run away with the notion that there has been an explosion in heroin use. All available evidence and data suggest that, sad though the position is, in terms of both age groups and the overall quantum the number of users is more or less the same. But the hon. Gentleman’s point about the role of under-18s in the criminal justice system is a fair one, which I will convey to my colleagues.

Will my hon. Friend liaise with health Ministers with a view to offering all heroin addicts in treatment voluntary screening for blood-borne diseases, especially hepatitis C?

As I said earlier, the Home Office implements a number of measures with a range of colleagues, including those in the health team. As this is a specifically health-related matter rather than a Home Office matter, I will refer it to our colleagues in the health team.

Most young heroin users start as solvent abusers, perhaps as glue-sniffers. Will the Minister take this opportunity to praise groups such as Solve It, which is based in my constituency and is doing its level best to encourage young people not to engage in solvent abuse?

The hon. Gentleman is right. All groups that try to dissuade young people from embarking on the path of solvent abuse and any subsequent abuse are indeed to be praised considerably, and I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the group in his constituency.