A small group of individuals struggling with addiction has been receiving the medications Ritalin or Contalgin in exchange for taking HIV or Hepatitis C medication, Vísir reports. The initiative aims to decrease the spread of HIV And Hepatitis C among drug users. Staff of Reykjavík’s Welfare Department distribute the medications.
Ritalin is a prescription stimulant often used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder, while contalgin contains a derivative of morphine. Már Kristjánsson, Head Physician of Infectious Diseases at the National Hospital, says there are currently five or six individuals partaking in such an arrangement.
“In order to make progress, we make a contract with these individuals. We look at their medical history, and if there is a medical reason to prescribe habit-forming medication then we make an agreement with them. Then we prescribe a strong painkiller or a stimulant in one pill in exchange for them taking HIV medication or medication for Hepatitis C,” explains Már, who adds that it is most often a family doctor that writes the prescription.
The project has been running for around one year and proved effective. Már would like to see it expanded. “We’ve managed to keep these individuals, which have no other resources, virus free.” He underlines that such arrangements are rarely necessary, however. “There are plenty of addicts who despite their drug use can take care of their own treatment, but there is a small group which is so far gone that they can’t come and are not trustworthy [when it comes to taking their] medication.”
Baldur Bergþórsson, substitute city councillor for the Centre Party, has been vocally opposed to the project, saying that it entails giving illegal drugs to addicts who are struggling the most. “They get strong prescription drugs that they crush. They then get equipment, syringes, needles, elastic to tie their arms, a cup to cook the material in, and then they get bathroom facilities on Lindargata which they can use as an injection site.”
Hrafnhildur Ólafsdóttir of the Municipal Service Centre for Vesturbær, Miðborg, and Hlíðar, agrees with Már that the project should be expanded. She underlines that the drug distribution is always carried out by nurses.
Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason says the project is not in his jurisdiction, but expressed his support for out of the box strategies that facilitate collaboration with difficult individuals. “These harm reduction solutions are precisely for facilitating co-operation with this group.”