Study shows drug treatment programmes are working

TREATMENT programmes for heroin addicts are working, according to a detailed research project.

A three-year follow-on study of users who entered treatment shows significant improvements in terms of drug use, criminal behaviour and rehabilitation.

But the poor mental health of users has continued – and in some cases has worsened – and there has been little change in physical health.

The so-called ROSIE study followed 400 heroin addicts in methadone treatment, undergoing detoxification or in abstinence programmes at one-year and three-year intervals.

“The outcomes from the ROSIE study show drug treatment works and that investment in drug treatment is paying dividends,” said Dr Des Corrigan, chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD), which commissioned the research.

“In addition, improvements were seen in employment and training. We were thus able to advise the minister [for drugs] that investment in opiate treatment services leads to benefits to the individual drug user, to their family and to the rest of the community and that this investment must be continued.”

The report found almost 40% were still in the same treatment programme that they started three years ago and that 60% were receiving methadone. It said these figures were “very encouraging”.

It said 70% of those in abstinence programmes had completed their treatment. This compared favourably to Britain, which has reported rates of 25%-50%.

The research, carried out by the Department of Mathematics at Maynooth University, found that 29% were free of all illegal drugs, compared to 9% at intake.

There was “significant improvement” in criminal activity, particularly within the first year. The percentage selling drugs fell from 30% to 13%. Theft from a person fell from 11% to 2% and handling stolen goods dropped from 25% to 10%.

The report shows continuing poor physical health, with significant improvements only noted in relation to appetite. The report card for mental health was worse, with significantly improvements in only two areas: feeling lonely (57% to 48%) and suicidal thoughts (25% to 19%).

It said there were “considerable improvements” in the areas of training, education, employment, accommodation and family support.

Some 32% had recently undergone training (up from 16%), 29% were employed (up from 16%) and 47% had their own flat (up from 25%).

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