There is currently a debate within the halls of government, and society as a whole, about whether or not the issue of drug and alcohol addiction should be taken out of the realm of enforcement and placed within the realm of healthcare. The rationale for making addiction a healthcare issue is one of focusing solutions on medical recovery rather than just law enforcement. In fact, former Home Office minister Norman Baker made that argument numerous times before leaving his position. Paul Hayes, former National Treatment Agency chief executive, offers a different perspective in a recent article published by The Guardian.

Mr Hayes’ perspective involves two important components:

  1. the current state of the Department of Health (DH) and National Health Service (NHS); and
  2. the relationship between drug addiction and crime.

Where the DH and NHS are concerned, Mr Hayes asserts that both agencies are already stretched to the limit in terms of both funding and personnel resources. Furthermore, they have more pressing issues to deal with. For example, smoking kills an estimated 80,000 Britons per year. Obesity is responsible for an additional 30,000 deaths while alcohol contributes to 6,500. The relatively small number of deaths related to drug use (2,000) does not justify taking resources away from other areas for drug addiction treatment.

While you may or may not agree with Mr Hayes regarding the DH and NHS, his second point is much more compelling. He cites government statistics that show illicit drug use and addiction cost the UK some ??15 billion annually. Approximately ??13 billion of that is directly attributed to drug-related crime. By contrast, the total cost of smoking related issues only comes to ??5 billion annually. Hayes implies that the criminal side of illicit drug use should be dealt with as a criminal matter. He goes on to say that, drug addiction is more often an extension of criminal activity, rather than the cause of it.

???Very few drug addicted offenders were honest citizens before they became addicts,??? he writes. ???Addiction typically amplifies existing criminality rather than creating new cohorts of offenders.???

Hayes concludes by explaining that continuing to leave the drug addiction issue in the hands of the Home Office is a better strategy than turning it over to the Department of Health or the NHS. That does not mean effective treatment should not be part of the equation. Hayes explains that treatment not only helps turn lives around, it also significantly reduces criminal activity. That is why the Government has increased its annual expenditures for treatment from ??50 million to ??600 million.

Treatment is Key

Mr Hayes offers a compelling argument that deserves to be considered. Regardless of which side one takes however, treatment is the key to overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. If it is treated only as a medical problem needing nothing more than a prescription, nothing changes. We see this very scenario playing time and time again across Britain. Addiction must be treated at every level in order for it to be effective.

If the Government invests more money in addiction services, and they should, the money must go toward providing comprehensive residential treatment that gets to the core of addiction. Only when the focus of treatment moves in this direction will we see better results.

At Addiction Helper, our number one goal is to assist you in overcoming an addiction to drugs or alcohol. We offer free services including evaluations, advice and treatment referrals. Please take advantage of our services by calling our 24-hour addiction recovery helpline. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.


  1. The Guardian
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