A new trial program being run by the NHS offers opiate drug users cash incentives to stay clean. The new plan is being tested in 33 NHS facilities and voluntary clinics but if it is a success, the scheme could be rolled out across the country.
While some people may recoil at the idea of paying people to not break the law, the scientists behind the research say that these small payouts could save taxpayers and the NHS money.
The new scheme is very simple. Opiate users show up to a participating clinic, provide a clean urine sample, them receive a £10 shopping voucher. Unlike cash, this voucher is much harder to spend on drugs. Addicts can get another voucher each week simply by attending a weekly meeting and providing a clean urine sample each time.
This approach to treatment has several advantages. Addicts must attend weekly meetings where they can receive help and advice. Clinics can use these meetings to identify users and point them towards other resources and treatment. Clinical staff can also see when an addict relapses and may be able to provide timely help for those people. Finally, the vouchers can help the addicts buy food and other necessities, and the structured way in which they are dispensed forces addicts to keep to a schedule.
The scientists behind the trial believe this new approach will work, in part, because of a separate study which tested the idea of paying addicts to get vaccinated. The study provided heroin users with incentives to get vaccinated. This resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of vaccinated addicts which helped prevent the spread of disease both among users and the wider population.
“We understand that ill-at-ease feeling because it will be what we ourselves are feeling,” said study lead Professor John Strang, from the National Addiction Centre at King’s College London. “But the nature of medicine and its development is that you need to examine the evidence and improve methods of treatment.”
More details will not be released on the study until it has finished in one to two years.
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