The use of a heroin substitute as a recreational drug is spreading across Britain's prison system 'like wildfire', according to new research. In some prisons as many as 70 per cent of inmates regularly take Subutex illegally, the research found, and many former offenders are returning to civilian life with a taste for the drug.
Subutex, like methadone, is prescribed to heroin users to help wean them off addiction. Available in pill form, it is less addictive and less likely to trigger fatal overdoses than heroin or methadone because it does not suppress breathing as much. It is more expensive than methadone and not prescribed as extensively.
According to research published in Druglink, the magazine of the charity DrugScope, the illicit market in the substance is growing exponentially. The pills - known as 'subbies' - are popular with prisoners because they are small and easier to conceal than heroin or crack. The drug, the brand name for the opioid buprenorphine, is also harder to detect in tests.
An 8mg 'subby' tablet worth £5 on the illegal market outside prison is worth £40 inside where it is crushed and snorted or, say reports, injected.
The magazine says the drug is widely used around jails across the northeast and northwest of England. Significant levels of Subutex use among ex-prisoners have also been detected in Middlesborough, Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham, according to Druglink's latest annual street drugs survey.
The increasing illegal use of Subutex has served to highlight the problems of drug abuse in Britain's prisons, according to experts. It comes at a time when the Prison Service has suggested it may have to cut back on drug testing in prisons as a cost-cutting exercise.
The previously unrecognised popularity of the drug in Britain's jails saw it added to the list of substances tested across 40 prisons by the Prison Service between April and July this year. The illegal use of Subutex is also starting to alarm experts in other countries. Authorities in Georgia report that the drug has become the most widely abused narcotic in the country.