The number of people recovering from drug addiction in England rose by 18% last year, according to the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA).
Figures out today show that the numbers leaving treatment after overcoming dependency rose from 23,680 in 2009-10 to 27,969 in 2010-11, and were up 150% since 2005-6.
There was a fall in the number of people entering treatment for addiction to illegal drugs, including – over the past two years – 10,000 fewer heroin and crack users.
“The fact that the next generation is getting the message that hard drugs wreak damage to individuals and communities is very positive,” said NTA chief executive Paul Hayes.
“Fewer people coming into treatment, while waiting times remain low, are signs that the huge problem created by the heroin epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s is being tackled.”
The NTA said the progress reflected the ambitions of the coalition government’s drug strategy, published last year, which sought to shift focus of policy from harm reduction to abstinence and recovery.
However, charity DrugScope said the move had not been in place long enough to have had a significant impact.
“Those figures are from as far back as a year ago and the coalition’s only just rolled out the programme,” a spokesperson said.
“The new government recognises the gains that have been made and are using that positive momentum to improve treatment services and is being more ambitious about some of the longer-term clients, but I think there’s no single factor that led to these improved figures.”
The spokesperson said cultural changes, such as a shift away from “heroin chic” styles and wafer-thin fashion models of the 1990s, had contributed to the drop. High levels of employment over the past 10 years had also been a factor. He added that young people were increasingly using cannabis and alcohol rather than hard drugs.
The NTA reported that, of those opiate-only clients with a six month review in 2010-11, 49% had achieved abstinence from illegal drugs and a further 24% were classified as reliably improved. A further 2% had deteriorated.
Of crack-only clients with a six month review in 2010-11, 60% achieved abstinence and 7% had reliably improved. A further 2% had deteriorated.
Although the drop in heroin use was “hugely significant”, the DrugScope spokesperson added: “We still have more than 300,000 people on hard, illegal drugs, so it’s hardly time to roll out the celebration banners,” he said.
“One would hope this trend will continue, but the cloud on the horizon is the current economic situation. We’ve managed to stave off the impact of that on drug use so far, but high levels of unemployment are clearly going to be a concern.”
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