HEROIN is the growing drugs menace in Herefordshire.

The county is said to have the highest rate of heroin use in the West Midlands and can be compared to the situation in Birmingham city centre.

A Hereford GP has described the situation as critical as Herefordshire is at the head of the league on a 'per-head-of-the-population' count.

Dr Saadi Hasan who works with DASH, Drugs and Alcohol Support Herefordshire, warned of the growing drugs problem in the county when he talked about the pressure on the service at a board meeting of Herefordshire Primary Care Group.

It was reported, although on the face of it the numbers of heroin-users were not high, there had been a 100 percent increase in needles and syringes issued through the free-needle exchange scheme. This demonstrated a highly effective scheme, but reflected the rapidly-increasing drug-using population.

Dr Hasan said the drugs service was now unable to meet the demand for help and had to concentrate on those patients at high risk, such as pregnant women, small children and those with physical and mental health needs.

Dr Hasan emphasised that GPs had an important role to play in the care given to drug-users.

But the work was time-consuming, imposing limitations on their involvement. The GP spoke of the benefits of providing methadone treatment to opiate users.

But while an average patient consulted a GP four times a year those with a methadone prescription did so about 26 times in that period.

A local scheme to compensate doctors for the extra work was in the proposal stage and would have to be confirmed by the Primary Care Group.

The fact that Herefordshire has a drugs problem, similar to that of most areas in Britain has been widely accepted in the county. Health authorities and other groups, through health education have worked hard to encourage young people to say 'no' and to help those already addicted to stop. And where people have persisted they are given help to do so as safely as possible.

But Simon Hairsnape, chief executive of Herefordshire Primary Care Group, said groups such as DASH were plagued with the problem of having to rely on 'short-term' money with no financial security for the future.

This was confirmed by Melvyn Ellis, chief officer of Herefordshire Health and chairman of the Drugs Action Team.

He said they had to make a bid for specific money for projects with no promise there would be more when it ran out.

The best way forward could be for all groups and organisation involved with drugs at all levels to pool their resources to provide good infrastructure run by a multi-agency team to tackle the situation in the county.

At the Primary Care Group meeting it was agreed that a business case spelling out the resources required to provide an effective service, equitable across the county be prepared.

Proposals are expected to be presented at a meeting of the Primary Care Group in July.