Most of the hardened heroin addicts who were given free, daily doses of the illegal drug over a 12-month period underwent a positive transformation, committing far fewer crimes while their physical and mental health steadily improved, according to researchers.
Addicts also cut their illegal heroin use by 70 per cent, on average, according to researchers from the North American Opiate Medication Initiative.
The results of the trial, said Martin Schechter, the project's main investigator, show that hard-core addicts - those with the dimmest chances of recovery - can stabilize their lives when heroin is made free and administered by teams of health-care professionals.
"Heroin-assisted therapy is a safe and effective treatment for people with chronic heroin addiction who have not benefited from previous treatment," Dr. Schechter told a news conference in Vancouver.
The federally funded clinical trial began three years ago with researchers at Vancouver's University of British Columbia and the University of Montreal scouring both cities for heroin addicts, eventually finding 251 drug users who had previously tried - and failed - to overcome their addictions.
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