Recovery voices must be heard
"I was humbled by the many people who contacted me about my last column, in which I labelled the way our government keeps drug-addicted people on controlled methadone prescriptions as a human rights abuse. As usual, however, the voices of the service users could barely be heard above the loud certainty of the service providers.
I believe everyone should be given the chance to recover from addiction, preferably through abstinence-based residential programmes, and there is no better opportunity to do this than in that huge residential institution where most addicts go sooner or later: jail.
But jails are bursting with legal and illegal drugs. The authorities are well aware of this, but it's easier to ignore the problem than deal with it. Drugs keep the wings quiet, after all. So the seriously addicted are supplied with methadone on prescription, the habits of others are uninterrupted, and a golden opportunity for abstinence-based residential treatment is lost.
On release, thousands leave as addicted, if not more so, as when they came in. And after passing one blunt, dirty needle around 30 men, some have picked up new diseases…
Most service providers know about addiction through education, not experience, and cleave to it in the face of conflicting views from those with experience. Methadone prescription is easily controlled, so it's easily evaluated and seems to tick boxes. Providers get job satisfaction because they feel successful; in some cases, salaries are tied to targets. But when "targets" are both defined and analysed by people whose income is tied to them, the big numbers mean nothing.
Here's a small number that should shame the government: in 2008, 20% of drug-related deaths involved methadone, but, to my knowledge, there have been no known deaths from opiate withdrawal. And here's another: just 2% of addicts receiving treatment are offered the opportunity of abstinence with the support they need – in a residential environment. That's about 4,000 of the 200,000 addicts in "treatment", but of the 140,000 people who passed through the prisons estate last year, 20,000 were given methadone prescriptions instead of the chance to give up drugs altogether.
Advocates claim that methadone addiction turns heroin addicts into ordered people, but maybe they should listen to the voices of those locked inside the methadone box. Then talk to the few who have managed to swap methadone "treatment" for abstinence, healthy living and the personal and emotional growth that goes with it. They look back on their methadone years as a shadow of real life. But that doesn't show up in any statistic."
Mark Johnson, a rehabilitated offender and former drug user, is an author and founder of the charity Uservoice