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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 October, 2004, 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK
Abstinence call in drugs study
Prof McKeganey said addicts must be given more help
Six out of 10 drug addicts in Scotland would rather abstain than be weaned off their habit using methadone, a study has found.

The research was carried out by Professor Neil McKeganey at the Centre for Drug Misuse at Glasgow University.

He said it was important to strike a balance between harm reduction and abstinence.

Scotland Against Drugs welcomed the research, but the Scottish Drugs Forum described the study as "unhelpful".

It said harm reduction programmes gave users "vital breathing space" as they attempted to come off drugs.

Prof McKeganey, a noted opponent of the use of methadone to combat addiction, interviewed 1,007 addicts from 33 drug treatment agencies across Scotland who started drug abuse treatment in 2001.

We have to hear these voices and ensure we have services in place that can help addicts overcome their addiction
Prof McKeganey
He found that only 1% of those who took part in the study wanted advice on methadone programmes and safer drug use.

"These figures show that most drug users are contacting treatment services to come off the drugs completely," he said.

"We have to hear these voices and ensure we have services in place that can help addicts overcome their addiction.

Strike balance

"Over the last 10 years we have tended to prioritise harm reduction over abstinence and we need now to ensure that we have a balance between these two important aims."

Prof McKeganey found that 7% of respondents were looking for stabilised drug use and only 1% of users were interested in getting hold of clean needles.

Alistair Ramsay of Scotland Against Drugs said services should be better organised to help drug users kick their habit.

This report supports our philosophy of recovery
Bill Puddicombe
Phoenix House
"This research points out that the needs of users must be taken into account when services are being created," he said.

"If there is a very strong desire that services should help drug users come off drugs rather than be maintained on, for example, methadone, or arguably prescribed heroin, then that needs to be the priority."

Bill Puddicombe, chief executive of Phoenix House, which operates a policy of abstinence, said three quarters of addicts have been rehabilitated, with almost seven in 10 taking up further education or securing a job.

"As the largest provider of abstinence-based services, we have known for many years the positive outcome of this approach to treatment," he said.

"This report supports our philosophy of recovery. We believe people can rebuild their lives, which is why we also help them with education and employment.

Clear of drugs

"Our results prove that this approach works."

The Scottish Executive said its strategy is aimed at helping users leave a chaotic lifestyle, reduce their consumption and ultimately stay clear of drugs.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Drugs Forum said the research was "nothing new".

It is completely unhelpful to manipulate this topic into an abstinence versus harm reduction debate
Scottish Drugs Forum spokeswoman
She said that the vast majority of people with a problem needed a lot of support to become drug-free.

The spokeswoman said: "As well as dealing with effects of their drug problem, they are also often forced to confront and overcome a whole range of painful issues which may have led them into drug dependence in the first place.

"For some people, the repair process can take 10 years or more.

"Harm reduction programmes give these people vital breathing space to sort out their lives at the same time as they reduce their consumption of harmful street drugs. This way their chances of moving away and staying away from drugs harm are much higher."

She said that all agencies were working towards freeing people from drug dependence.

"It is completely unhelpful to manipulate this topic into an abstinence versus harm reduction debate," she added.

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