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Drugs treatment time cap contested

Imposing a time cap on heroin users' access to substitute treatment like methadone would increase the chances of a relapse, spread of HIV and surge in crime, the Government's official drug advisers have said.

There is strong evidence forcing people off opioid substitution treatment (OST) treatment is not the best way to help them towards recovery, a report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) found.

Drug addicts are dropping out of treatment too soon and more should be done to help them stay within this process, the report adds.

Annette Dale-Perera, co-chair of the ACMD's Recovery Committee, said: " All the evidence suggests restricting access to OST leads to an increased risk of people relapsing, turning to crime to fuel their habits - and even dying from an overdose.

"However, it is important to remember that medication alone will not lead to a successful recovery. OST should be delivered alongside therapy designed to change behaviour, as well as recovery interventions, to help people tackle their addiction and rebuild their lives."

In 2011/12, there were around 150,000 people dependent on heroin in the UK who were receiving OST, which involves a person receiving counselling alongside a prescribed substitute, such as methadone or buprenorphine.

The Inter-Ministerial Group on Drugs asked the ACMD's Recovery Committee to consider if there was a case for placing a maximum time limit on access to OST.

The Time Limiting Opioid Substitution Therapy report said an imposed time limit could lead to the vast majority of addicts suffering a relapse and a potential increase in fatal overdoses.

It also said a time cap could lead to wider problems, such as a steep rise in drug-driven crime and the spread of blood-borne viruses like hepatitis and HIV.

The ACMD's research found only 10% to 15% of people receive OST for five years or more.

In contrast, the Council is in fact concerned more people are in OST for too short a time to benefit, as almost 40% stopped OST within six months.

Professor Les Iversen, chair of the ACMD, added: " OST should be seen as a stepping stone on a path to overcoming heroin dependency and achieving recovery.

"When a person with a heroin addiction is also given help to deal with their personal, social and economic problems there is a greater chance of a positive outcome."

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