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Drug Alcohol Rev. 2006 Mar;25(2):115-21.

Patients receiving a prescription for diamorphine (heroin) in the United Kingdom.

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Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour, Imperial College London, London, UK.


The United Kingdom is unusual internationally in that it is one of few countries able to prescribe diamorphine for the treatment of opiate dependence. Prescribing diamorphine has been part of the UK response to drug problems since the 1920s. Despite this, little is known about who receives diamorphine and how treatment is delivered. This study aims to describe the characteristics and treatment regimes of opiate-dependent drug users receiving a prescription for diamorphine in the United Kingdom in 2000, and report on their status in 2002. A retrospective case-note review was conducted in England and Wales. Two hundred and ten (72%; 210/292) patients' sets of case-notes were reviewed at 27 of the 42 (64%) drug clinics where diamorphine was prescribed by the doctor. Patients had been receiving a prescription for diamorphine for a median length of six years. The majority were unemployed white males, with a median age of 44 years. Illicit drug use and criminal activity, while low, had not been eliminated totally. The majority were prescribed ampoules and few had significant health problems. In some cases patients had been transferred to injectable diamorphine from injectable methadone to reduce injection related problems. There were wide variations in dose. The majority of patients had no serious drug, health or social problems. Diamorphine prescribing was a long-term commitment. The experience from the United Kingdom has been one of long-term prescribing with the aim of retaining patients in treatment and reducing the harms caused by illicit drug use. Prospective studies are needed to determine the long-term consequences of receiving a diamorphine prescription.

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