September 15, 2012


by Kathy Gyngell* of the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank

Kathy Portraits May 05 024No one in their right mind would give an alcoholic alcohol to cure their addiction.

Yet this approach has been used to treat drug addiction for years – and is still advocated by the government’s medical advisers.

Fotolia_3999853_Vladislav GurfinkelScotland’s record drug deaths, now dominantly associated with methadone, announced this August, put paid to the idea that managing an addict’s life with more drugs works. It doesn’t. 5,000 methadone deaths in the US per year are testament to that. Methadone deaths have risen exponentially in England and Wales, too – from 248 in 2001 to 486 in 2011.

Methadone, an opiate substitute, is still the National Health’s preferred ‘treatment’ for heroin addiction - or for any other drug addiction for that matter, if heroin is involved at all. Since 2001 billions of tax payers’ money primed a massive expansion of prescribing in the name of ‘harm reduction’. Experimenting with taxpayer-funded heroin was added to the mix too where methadone proved not enough to keep addicts off street drugs.  And now, in Scotland, naloxone, the heroin overdose antidote, is routinely added to the addict’s drugs cupboard.  This handy resuscitation kit is meant to be administered by a ‘carer’ - more often a co-user. Into this heady cocktail addictive add benzos – prescribed for anxiety but which like methadone leak onto the illicit market.

The received medical wisdom is to ‘give the addict more’ if this is what it takes to stop their street drug dependency. Financial incentives for doctors to get addicts on scripts secured Labour’s treatment targets and offered doctors a solution at the same time. Incentives to get addicts off drugs and alcohol are another matter.

Far from an investment in recovery, the Coalition’s drug treatment legacy risks being expansion of harm reduction. For this is where investment is still directed. Referral to rehab is all but non existent.
I do not doubt the Coalition’s desire to catalyse recovery. But language is not enough when old practice persists, repackaged, in a new guise.

The policy beneficiaries are still the same. They are not the addicts or the families that bear the burden of addiction that the government’s recovery policy was designed to help.

Read the full blog.

* Kathy Gyngell authored the Addictions reports for Breakdown and Breakthrough Britain, the Conservative Party’s 2007 Social Justice Policy Review. Her recent reports, The Phoney War on Drugs (CPS, 2009) and Breaking the Habit: why the state should stop dealing drugs and start doing rehab (CPS, 2011) have attracted widespread media coverage and attention. She researches, writes and is media commentator on a range of social policy issues including for the Daily Mail's Right Minds. 


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