Drug addicts are to be give free heroin under a new scheme backed by police.
Addicts will be able to attend centres licensed by the Home Office where they can inject the class A drug up to three times a day.
The scheme is being introduced in Cleveland in the autumn, and will cost an estimated £12,000 a year for each addict.
Cleveland’s police and crime commissioner, Barry Coppinger, wrote to home secretary Sajid Javid to say the scheme will “help to save lives, save money, and reduce crime”.
He insisted the “heroin assisted treatment scheme” in Middlesbrough would offer a “different and innovative approach”.
The centres will be open to addicts seven days a week, and other police forces, such as West Midlands, Durham and Avon and Somerset, have supported the project.
The Home Office said: “We must support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery.”
Mr Coppinger told Teeside Live: “Entrenched heroin dependency continues to be a key driver for acquisitive crime offending in Cleveland and elsewhere.”
He said the addicts selected for the scheme are those for who all previous treatment has failed.
“They are the most prolific offenders with severe impact on themselves and their families, on the public and shopkeepers and the local economy as a whole as well as police and health resources.
“They lead chaotic lifestyles in which virtually every minute is focused on funding their next hit.
“If we can remove that obsession we can then look to engage other agencies, including health and housing, to finally get these users off the streets and back into society.
“It’s clear that for this hardcore of substance addicts the current strategies are not working.
“If we don’t try something new the cycle of offending and the enormous costs to society will simply continue and in all likelihood increase.”
But the scheme has been criticised by those who claim it will cause further drug dependency.
David Green, director of the Civitas think tank, told the Sunday Telegraph: “If it becomes accepted, you could increase the amount of addiction. I would like to see a heavy emphasis on getting people off drugs all together.”
But Ian Hamilton, a senior lecturer in addiction at the University of York, believes the project will have a positive impact.
“There has been considerable misunderstanding and reporting of this proposed scheme in Cleveland,” he said.
“They will not be setting up drug consumption rooms, but they will be providing heroin assisted treatment (HAT).
“Providing a small group of people who use opiates with pharmaceutical grade heroin is a proven way of engaging them in treatment, particularly for those people that have not responded to traditional opiate substitutes like methadone.
“Heroin assisted treatment has been offered in the United Kingdom before and should help reduce the risk of an overdose. This is an important initiative as the UK has the highest rate of drug related deaths in Europe.”