Abstinence-based rehabilitation

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On June 25, 2011, this letter was published in the Daily Telegraph:

"SIR – We represent leading voluntary and private sector abstinence-based rehabilitation centres in England. We were concerned by the revelations in Kathy Gyngell’s report, published by the Centre for Policy Studies, Breaking the Habit: why the state should stop dealing drugs and start doing rehab (“Benefits and treatment for drug addicts cost £3.6 billion a year”, telegraph.co.uk, June 19).

"We call on the Government to make abstinence-based rehabilitation central to the implementation of its drugs policy. Fewer than 2 per cent of addicts seeking help to quit drugs are currently referred to rehab. An immediate goal of 25 per cent is feasible. Such a commitment is necessary to turn around the tanker of dependency.

"In the two years before the general election, an average of one rehab unit closed each month. A progressive decline in statutory referrals, with the loss of about 1,000 beds, continues. Yet taxpayers are funding the continued dependency of the 98 per cent of addicts in so-called treatment, to the tune of billions of pounds. This process will continue if the Coalition leaves current commissioning arrangements for drugs and alcohol services in place under the direction of the National Treatment Agency, soon to be transferred to Public Health England.

"Unless the Coalition takes action quickly, the Prime Minister’s call to help addicts to become clean, free of drugs and build new lives, will be thwarted." [1]

Signatories included:


In April 2012, "An alliance of influential charities has condemned a key government drugs strategy document, calling it an "ideological attack" on proven addiction treatments and "dangerously and deeply flawed". It warns that ministers will be putting lives at risk if proposed plans to push through "abstinence-based" approaches go ahead.

"The group, which includes leading HIV/Aids charities Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) and the National Aids Trust (Nat), and the drugs and human rights charity Release, have delivered a highly critical letter to drugs minister Lord Henley and the prime minister, David Cameron, warning that the "recovery roadmap" in the government's document Putting Full Recovery First would be "disastrous" for drug-dependent people... However, the charities argue that the roadmap goes much further than the strategy by positioning abstinence and "full recovery" as the top priorities for drugs policy at the expense of "proven" harm-reduction treatments such as methadone for heroin addiction, says the group...

"A government spokeswoman denied that the document was a shift away from the drugs strategy. Conservative MP David Burrowes, who was involved in drafting the roadmap, said "it does not seek to diminish" harm-reduction treatments. He added that one of its strengths was that it was "not a government diktat" but came from a "collaboration" with charities and service providers.

"However, the umbrella group, DrugScope, which is heavily name-checked in the roadmap as endorsing the drugs strategy, has distanced itself from the document. Its chief executive Martin Barnes says that, while the organisation "still supported" the government's treatment and recovery approach "as set out in the drug strategy in 2010", it "did not support or endorse where [the roadmap] clearly differs from the government's commitments to an integrated and balanced system"." [2]

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  1. telegraph Letter, organizational web page, accessed April 19, 2013.
  2. guardian Charities unite in opposition to government drugs policy, organizational web page, accessed April 19, 2013.