IT would appear that the weight of expert opinion in favour of prescribing hard drugs, particularly heroin, for long-time users at special NHS-funded centres is growing at a significant rate. Government-appointed experts, set up by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, report that a trial programme of supplying addicts at centres in London, Darlington and Brighton, known somewhat whimsically as “shooting galleries”, had yielded positive results. The number of crimes committed by heroin and crack cocaine users, desperate to get their hands on money to fund their habit, had dropped dramatically. These drug experts are now calling for a nationwide network of “shooting galleries”, which is certain to provoke heated arguments between people in favour of the scheme, and those vehemently opposed to it.

I have theorised previously in this column that as prohibition failed so spectacularly in America, spawning a new breed of master criminal and outbreaks of gang warfare on an unprecedented scale, there was never any realistic expectation that the efforts of global law enforcement agencies to stem the flow and use of hard drugs would be any more successful. History tells us, or surely would if people took notice, that if you want to know what will happen tomorrow, look at what happened yesterday.

It is also impossible to argue against simple economics. Supplying a heroin addict on the NHS would cost £15,000 annually. The cost of keeping one in prison for the same period is £44,000. Police statistics are equally persuasive. A staggering three-quarters of all money-orientated crime in the UK is committed by ten per cent of drug addicts. Making properly-run, supervised centres available removes the need for them to buy from street dealers.

It all sounds so easy and straightforward that you must be wondering why we, and other countries riven by drug-related murder and mayhem, haven’t gone down this route before. Well, so revolutionary a move would clearly need a government with the self-belief and courage to implement it. I doubt we have such a one currently in power in Westminster, where in-fighting and self-preservation seem to top every agenda. But if the setting up of heroin prescription centres helps to reduce drug-related crime, as it has in the three named areas in the UK, and parts of Germany, France, Canada and, most notably, Switzerland, where the scheme was pioneered, then that must surely be a better alternative to locking up hardened addicts, who steal to deal.

Another positive by-product of the implementation of “shooting galleries”, and a reduction in drug-related crime, would be the freeing up of police resources to tackle other anti-social behaviour. For example, in Bolton we have an army of arsonists in our midst, judging by the number of incidents reported in the pages of this publication, virtually every day.

If it’s not wheelie bins, it’s parked vehicles. Some fire bugs have graduated to torching buildings, domestic and business, with no thought of the threat to life. Are any of these nutters ever caught and, if so, made to pay for the damage, as well as spending considerable time at Her Majesty’s pleasure? Answers on a postcard to . . .