HOW ADDICTED ARE WE? THE UK’S DATA DEFICIT
by Kathy Gyngell
Chair of the Centre for Policy Studies' Prisons and Addictions think-tank
The US is well ahead of us in the game of social data collection. A first-of-its-kind study by the US Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has just reported on drug treatment trends since 1998. It has put our own data deficit into sharp focus.
Here in the UK we only began collecting very selective aspects of treatment data, and not very dispassionately at that, after the National Treatment Agency was set up in 2002. Since government policy dictated, for crime reduction, that only heroin and crack cocaine addicts should be recruited for drug treatment (not alcohol, benzo, cannabis or amphetamine addicts or any other combination thereof), these are the only treatment trends we have to measure.
The US study reports something we could not if we tried – a nationwide 31% rise in admissions to detoxification and drug-treatment centers for marijuana dependence between 1998 and 2008. For although our mental health wards have been described by addiction psychiatrists as cannabis dependency units, although cannabis dependence is a key condition of dual diagnosis, we have no detox provision or treatment for them.
The US study also reports falling admissions for alcohol abuse (15%) where we have no such data (only 1 in 13 get any treatment to record here – no chance of a fall), for cocaine (23%) and for heroin (3%) but rising admissions for methamphetamine (53%) and for prescription drugs, another UK data void (400%).
This data reveals the impact of drugs policy too. In California for example, a leader in liberalising medical marijuana use, admissions for treatment for marijuana dependence have more than doubled over the past decade, by an eye-popping 117%, reports the Washington Times.
The drop in cocaine treatment admissions reported in the US suggests that supply interdictions (the three biggest in 2007), over 2,500 drug courts set up since the late 1980s, and ‘social learning’ demand control have all been remarkably effective.
The most "disturbing" treatment trend tracked in America is prescription-drug abuse. Back in 1998, treatment centers reported 19,870 admissions for prescription-drug abuse; by 2008, these had escalated to 111,251. Here in the UK we remain in the dark and the sufferers, like cannabis dependents, remain invisible. Yet Beat the Benzos campaign reckons we have 1-1.5million iatrogenic benzo addicts in the country alone.
(Legal) alcohol remained the most commonly abused substance across the US, accounting for more than 40% of the nearly 1.9 million admissions to detoxification centers and other substance-abuse treatment centers in 2008. Here in the UK we would not know.
Read the full version by clicking on the CPS website.