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Heroin assisted service to be evaluated by addiction experts

Leading the study is Dr Andrew McAuley (left) and GCU researcher Dr Matt Smith. Image credit: Peter Devlin

Heroin assisted service to be evaluated by addiction experts

Glasgow’s new heroin assisted treatment service will be evaluated as part of a study used to develop a blueprint for similar approaches in the UK and around the world.

Addiction experts from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are leading the research into Scotland’s first heroin assisted treatment service, as part of a £291,000 Scottish Government Chief Science Office grant to carry out a study over the service’s first two and a half years.

The facility, licensed by the Home Office and delivered by Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, was opened last week and will accept 20 patients in the first year and 40 in the second.

The university said the research findings would be used to “shape the future of the facility as well as to develop a blueprint for similar services in the UK and around the world”.

The study’s principal investigator, GCU School of Health and Life Sciences senior research fellow Dr Andrew McAuley, said the research would evaluate “how the heroin assisted treatment service is implemented within the Glasgow context of widespread polydrug use, epidemic levels of drug-related deaths and an ongoing outbreak of HIV among people who inject drugs”.

“There is already a strong body of evidence to show that heroin assisted treatment as an intervention is effective within a controlled research environment,” he said.

“However, little is known about how best to implement heroin assisted treatment in the real world, so we are conducting what we call an implementation science evaluation which tries to understand how the service works, for whom, when and why.”

He said the study would involve “an in-depth exploration of the experience of the people involved in the service” including patients, staff, police, social workers, and housing and homelessness services.

“Ultimately, our aim of this evaluation is to understand how it’s implemented in Glasgow and to shape the development of that service moving forward,” McAuley said.

“We also aim to create good practice guidance so that other areas in the UK and other parts of the world looking to implement this type of service can learn from the experiences in Glasgow and implement their own service effectively.”

Chair of Glasgow’s Alcohol and Drug Partnership Susanne Millar said independent evaluation of the service was “critical for us” and that information and analysis from the study would inform treatment strategies.

“Sadly, the rise in drug-related deaths is a nationwide issue and Glasgow’s facility is the first of its kind in Scotland – so the evaluation by Glasgow Caledonian University will also be of interest to other cities who are considering how to best save lives and tackle this national public health emergency,” she said.

“The findings of this research provided further justification for interventions such as the proposed drug consumption room and heroin-assisted treatment services in Glasgow. Glasgow has a pressing need at the moment for this kind of intervention because it has such high rates of overdose and harms associated with people injecting in public places in the city.

“The drug consumption room idea has been kicked into the long grass by the Home Office but the heroin assisted treatment service is possible within the existing legal framework. Several clinical trials have shown that heroin assisted treatment reduces illicit drug use, criminal activity and improves the health and wellbeing of patients who have not responded well to traditional treatments such as methadone.”

The study will run from January 2020 until July 2022.

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