£1.9m To Help Just One Drug Addict Kick The Habit

A massive £130 million funding boost for drug addiction treatment has led to only 70 more users quitting drugs – at a cost of almost £1.9 million each.

{mosimage}Spending on drug services in England rose by 50 per cent from £253 million in 2004-05 to £384 million last year, figures from the National Treatment Agency have revealed.

But over the same period the numbers leaving treatment programmes ‘clean’ – having successfully beaten their addictions – crept up by just 1.2 per cent from 5,759 to 5,829.

The figures have sparked fierce criticism, with opposition MPs demanding an urgent inquiry by independent spending watchdogs, and accusing ministers of “incompetence and distorted priorities”.

Critics claim the Government has focussed too much on getting greater numbers of addicts into treatment while paying little attention to the outcome of the expensive courses.

Last week there was outrage when it emerged that many treatment centres routinely offer addicts extra drugs – including heroin substitutes and anti-depressants – as a reward for providing drug-free urine samples.

Ministers have boasted of a huge expansion in drug treatment over the past decade, but the latest revelation added to the pressure on the Department of Health over the apparently modest impact of drug treatment courses.

Around 195,000 people are officially counted as using addiction treatment services each year – a rise of 130 per cent since 1998.

But many of those never attend appointments or quit in the first few weeks, and official figures show that fewer than three per cent go on to complete a course and a free of drug use at the end of it – down from 3.5 per cent three years ago.

The huge increase in funding over the past three years failed to produce any significant increase in the numbers actually breaking their addictions and living free of drugs, with each additional ‘clean’ addict costing the taxpayer £1.9million.

Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said the effectiveness of treatment schemes was “declining dramatically”, adding: “This is an absolutely shocking revelation which speaks volumes about the Government’s incompetence and distorted priorities.

“It is yet more evidence why we should focus spending on getting addicts of drugs, and not just spend money managing their addiction.”

In a letter to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, formally requesting an inquiry into the issue, Mr Davis pointed out that Britain has the highest level of problem drug use and the second highest level of drug-related deaths in Europe, but said Government policy was failing to help users break the cycle of addiction.

The use of cocaine and crack cocaine has risen sharply in Britain in recent years, and is estimated to have doubled since 1998, with around three quarters of a million people using the drugs. Almost 300,000 are thought to be addicted to heroin.

Ministers insist the number of addicts who stop using drugs completely is not the only measure of success for treatment, which they claim can reduce the harm to society caused by drugs if users reduce their consumption and get their chaotic lives under control.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “In the last few years there has been a massive expansion in the numbers entering drug treatment.

“It generally takes between five and seven years for an addict to successfully complete their treatment, and therefore it would be unrealistic to expect to see the results of this expansion in treatment immediately.

“Getting users into treatment and keeping them there is the best way to save their lives and reduce the harm they cause to people around them and to society.”

Ministers last week demanded an inquiry into the National Treatment Agency’s own findings that a third of clinics were offering extra drugs or drug substitutes to addicts as a “reward” if they managed to keep off drugs for a few days and provide clean urine samples.

Senior officials at the Agency admitted the practice was “unethical and unacceptable”.