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Kathy Gyngell: State sponsored addiction and a public health crisis – two legacies of Labour’s spending binge


Yesterday, Nick Wood revealed the true impact of Labour’s economic car crash. What’s more, he pointed out, the Conservatives have never fully communicated the scale of Labour’s economic mismanagement; nor have they played the blame game with sufficient vigour.

That’s despite the trillions collected in taxes and the further billions borrowed that fed Labour’s voracious appetite for spending – one that aggravated rather than solved problems.

Just one example of this was Labour’s hubristic drug treatment policy. They were persuaded that they could cut crime and improve public health by managing ‘high harm causing’ drug addicts by mass prescribing them the opiate substitute methadone.

But this state interference stoked old problems, created new ones and took focus off other ones.  It entrapped them in addiction

This week, updating research I’d originally done for the Addiction reports for Iain Duncan Smith’s Social Justice Policy Review and later for the Centre for Policy Studies, for a presentation for the United Kingdom and European Symposium on Addictive Disorders (UKESAD), the full extent of Labour’s waste and its terrible targeted drug treatment legacy hit me anew.

Methadone prescriptions today sit at nearly 3 million, triple that of 1995.

The English drug treatment budget was a generous £300 million in 2001. By the time the National Treatment Agency dissolved into the Coalition’s new super quango, Public Health England in 2013, it had reached £800 million.

In 2007 Gordon Brown proudly stated on the Today programme that ‘over the last ten years the Government has spent more on its ‘war on drugs’ than its combined operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It went on to spend billions more. On so called treatment.

As ever more addicts were bribed into ‘treatment’ to meet targets, the better the bonuses were for the staff of the agency Labour set up responsible for rounding them up – the National Treatment Agency (NTA). Brown’s client state was well and truly established. It is still there today.

His national addiction gravy train, eventually scooped up 200,000 addicts, getting 150,000 of them onto methadone, and colonizing the charity sector along the way to the purposes of the state programme, decimating their abstinence-based residential rehabs.

Yet far from providing the public health and crime fix that Labour had hoped for (let alone solving the problem of addiction) rolling out the opiate substitute methadone, across prisons as well as in the community, has not even contained it. It has made it worse.

Drug deaths continued to rise – for as heroin deaths began to drop methadone deaths rose to meet them.

Addicts remained street drug dependent and sold their methadone.

Now it is clear that instead of  stemming blood-borne viruses associated with injecting drug use, under this Orwellian drug policy Hepatitis C prevalence has leapt to near epidemic proportions – from 56,000 cases in 2003 to 216,000 cases in 2013. So too have Hep C related deaths.

As a result thousands of addicts or former addicts have needed expensive liver transplants, and thousands more the expensive drug Interferon.

Emergency hospital admissions for drug associated mental health and poisonings have also shot up to unprecedented levels (by 100 per cent and 75 per cent to date since 2003 respectively).

Some of this mess has to be set at NICE’s door (another Labour quango). Their advice – that methadone was effective and stabilised chaotic lives, that addiction was a chronically relapsing disease that they were dealing with; that rehab was a waste of time and too expensive – has never wavered.

The final irony is that needle and syringe exchanges so favoured by public health officials, though of doubtful efficacy, since heroin has gone out of fashion now support a whole new class of steroid and amphetamine addicts, whose strange and risky body enhancing obsessions we find ourselves funding.

Labour’s spend fest and the Conservative’s abysmal failure to expose it has left us with:

150,000 still on methadone prescriptions at the last official count, a number that has not shifted at all in recent years (whatever the Coalition’s recovery rhetoric) though there is no evidence it helps them get free of addiction.

Growing numbers of addicts parked on methadone long term (6,000 for more than 10 years and 27,000 for more than 5 years)

A crippled charitable abstinence based residential rehab sector – though abstinence rehab is one intervention that fully recovered addicts confirm helps.

While Labour’s state methadone programme entrenched addiction and disease, it sucked investment out of inpatient detoxification and rehab. Today, a pitiful one per cent of addicts in the treatment system get a chance of residential rehab – that’s half the number of six years ago. And testimony after testimony from successful, tax paying, former addicts shows it works.

Labour invested billions to make getting better harder. And the Conservatives have yet to expose the double horror of this waste and do something about it other than a policy name change.

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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