A report on drug addiction treatment in the UK from the National Audit Office in 2010 found that the number of drug users dropping out of such programmes fell substantially in the five years between 2005 and 2010, while the numbers engaging in treatment rose by 45 per cent.

Drug users do continue to drop out of drug addiction treatments early. Paradoxically, the criminal justice system, which aims to prevent and reduce the prevalence of drug addiction, may unwittingly be contributing to the problem. A study from John Moore’s University in Liverpool in 2006 found that coercive drug addiction treatment programmes, which compel people to attend under threat of punishment, might be counterproductive. The study’s author, Dr Carol Benyon, concluded that making such programmes more accessible – as the National Audit Office report confirms – are more likely to be successful.

These findings are borne out by observations from Birmingham Police’s drug-referral unit. While noting that more young people appear to be drifting into drug addiction at present, the unit questioned the effectiveness of the government’s “get tough on drugs” approach, which took the view that drug addiction, including methadone addiction, was a crime. Addicts who are not ready to commence treatment frequently find themselves coerced into doing so by law, a phenomenon the police unit considers unwise. Most young addicts, the unit concluded, are sceptical about the long-term benefits of such coerced treatments and are much more likely to drop out. More positive and less harsh approaches, the unit believes, may be the key to future success.