Do drug addiction treatment programs work?



syringeEuropean countries are the frontrunners when it comes to drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs. This is due to the fact that in Europe, drug addiction is considered an illness whereas in other parts of the world, including the US, it is viewed as a crime. But are the current addiction treatment programs really working?

Researchers from the National Addiction Centre in the UK looked at more than 14,600 addicts across England. These patients were addicted to either heroin, crack cocaine or both. The patients received the following therapies:

  • Heroin addicts were treated with oral methadone for at least 6 months and also underwent counselling.
  • Crack cocaine received only psychological counselling and therapy because there is currently no recommended drug substitute for crack cocaine.

After six months, 42% of heroin users had quit whereas 57% of crack addicts also stopped using the drug. Those addicted to both drugs, however, had lower rates of quitting after 6 months.

The study concluded:

The first 6 months of pharmacological or psychosocial treatment is associated with reduced heroin and crack cocaine use, but the effectiveness of pharmacological treatment is less pronounced for users of both drugs. New strategies are needed to treat individuals with combined heroin and crack cocaine addiction.

The study was funded by Britain’s National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse to evaluate whether UK’s addiction treatment programs are working. Health experts think the results are encouraging but are cautious about the long-term outcomes. Kicking a drug habit is difficult enough. Hanging on there without going into a relapse is even more difficult. This is why addicts need ongoing care long after they have quit.

Sceptics may not be ready to believe the high rates of reported quitting. After all, addicts are quite well-known to lie and deny their habits. Let’s face it: would you believe a crack addict if he tells you face to face that he has quit? The researchers were aware of this made sure that “quitting” is not just lip service but the real thing.

When it comes to his views about drug addiction, Dr. Thomas McLellan, deputy director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy has so much in common with his European peers. He likens treating heroin and crack cocaine addicts to managing patients with diabetes or high blood pressure.

“Addiction is best thought of as a chronic condition. There is no cure, but we can manage it.”

The British government spends millions of pounds every year for drug addiction treatment programs. On average, it costs up to >5,000 ($7,991) per person per year to provide addiction treatment. Is it worth all the money and the effort? Dr. McLellan is convinced it’s all worth it. An effective drug addiction treatment program will eventually lower the social and health care costs of addiction, including crime and lost productivity, leading to “cost savings [that] will be astronomical.”

Photo credit: Stock.xchng

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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