Heroin should be prescribed on the NHS, according to Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter.
His comments followed a debate on the subject at the RCN’s annual congress, in which nurses argued that prescribing heroin instead of methadone would help fight drug addiction and reduce infections such as hepatitis.
Dr Carter told journalists: “My personal view is that I do believe in heroin prescribing.
“It might take a few years but I do think eventually people will understand. It’s a hugely misunderstood subject because it looks like somehow we’re encouraging it.”
Prescribing heroin and allowing addicts to use it under supervision would cut crime rates, if proper standards were developed, he said.
He added more needle exchanges were also needed, to reduce the numbers of dirty needles and syringes found in playgrounds and stairwells.
In an earlier debate some nurses were concerned that heroin prescribing would cost too much at a time when the NHS is under serious budgetary pressures.
Others argued it would create a more effective “step down” service, helping to engage users and persuade them to switch to safer ways of taking the drug, such as orally rather than through injections.