Methadone numbers up in British prisons

The number of people in British prisons using the heroin substitute methadone has risen dramatically, according to a public policy think-tank.

There were 19,632 prisoners on methadone as part of “maintenance programmes” in 2008 compared to 12,518 in 2007 – a 57 per cent rise.

The increase was uncovered by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) who obtained the figures from the Government.

Concerns have been raised that the Government’s harm reduction programme is causing people to become addicted to methadone, instead of becoming completely drug-free.

Drugs expert Kathy Gyngell, a research fellow at the CPS, said alternative psychological-based treatments were needed.

Miss Gyngell commented that in contrast to the thousands of prisoners on methadone, fewer than 900 had been placed on a 12-step detoxification programme that involves talking therapies and has shown evidence of being successful.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman defended the increases in methadone prescriptions.

But methadone treatment for heroin addiction has been heavily criticised by politicians as well as drug experts.

Earlier this year it was announced that methadone ‘vending machines’ had been installed in 57 prisons in England and Wales, at a cost of £4 million.

The machines dispense methadone to prisoners who take it under the supervision of a health professional.

The Shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve, said at the time: “The public will be shocked that Ministers are spending more on methadone vending machines than the entire budget for abstinence based treatments.”

Mr Grieve added: “Getting prisoners clean of drugs is one of the keys to getting them to go straight.”

He continued: “We need to get prisoners off all drug addiction – not substitute one dependency for another. The Government’s approach of trying to ‘manage’ addiction is an admission of failure.”

In May another report by Kathy Gyngell for the CPS described the Government’s ‘harm reduction’ approach as a “costly flop”.

Miss Gyngell said the Government’s strategy is trapping people in “state-sponsored addiction”.

She added: “Despite the £10 billion spent on the War on Drugs, the numbers emerging from Government treatment programmes are at the same level as if there had been no treatment programme at all”.

Miss Gyngell said she wants the Government to do more to stop drug use, rather than simply addressing the harm it causes.