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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 July 2007, 00:03 GMT 01:03 UK
Drug users to get shop vouchers
Cocaine
Incentive schemes could help drug users to quit
Drug users are to get shopping vouchers if they stay clean and take part in treatment programmes, under plans which may cost the NHS in England 5m a year.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence says its plans - to be piloted in up to six centres - will save the NHS money in the long run.

The vouchers, designed to "encourage a healthy, drug-free lifestyle" would be worth 70 to 150 a year, NICE added.

The government says more work is needed on the practicalities of the scheme.

The NICE Guidelines
Motivational sessions should be given to drug misusers
Staff should offer advice about self-help groups
Detoxification should be available to opioid dependent users who want to quit
Incentives schemes should introduced in phases

If the scheme is implemented fully, about 36,000 addicts in England would receive the vouchers.

NICE says that offering drug users individual social and psychological help, including incentive schemes such as vouchers, will ensure that current treatments will work better.

A pilot scheme will be launched to establish how best it should be implemented, and how staff should be trained.

'Real difference'

Other privileges could include being able to take drugs such as methadone, a heroin substitute, at home rather than under supervision.

Misusers are much more likely to succeed in treatment if they are given encouragement for the effort they are making
Steve Pilling

Steve Pilling, co-director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, who worked on the guidelines, said: "We're talking typically about a couple of pounds, we are not talking about iPods or flat screen TVs.

"We've studied the results from trials involving over 5,000 participants from all over the world which show clearly that substance misusers are much more likely to succeed in treatment if they are given encouragement for the effort they are making towards coming off their drug habit."

He said even small incentives could make a real difference not only to patients' lives, but also to the lives of those around them.

For example, one study which the institute examined, involved giving drug users who were single mothers vouchers which could be used to buy clothes for their children.

Vaccination

And despite the immediate costs, NICE says the scheme will prove cost-effective.

Incentives could be used, for instance, to encourage drug users to be vaccinated against hepatitis B which affects about 30% of users.

The cost of incentives and vaccination is 215, yet the institute says preventing one person from being infected with the disease would save the NHS 4,500.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We welcome these guidelines as a significant contribution to building on the substantial progress that has already been made in increasing the availability and effectiveness of drug treatment."

"The National Treatment Agency will be doing further work to show how various models of contingency management can be both practical and cost-effective in the NHS."




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