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The economic costs of our failure to treat addiction

Posted on 11 November 2011 | 1:11pm

A brief word on the conference on addiction I spoke at in Ireland yesterday, and the visit to Toranfield House, which helps recovering addicts.

First though, a tourism plug. County Wicklow has some fabulous scenery, and the autumnal colours were sublime. When I had my recovering from addiction spell many years ago, I could have done with scenery like that!

The point I want to highlight though was made not by me but by a member of the audience, an expert in alcohol counselling, who specialises in helping doctors and dentists with drink problems. He made the point that the State -whether British or Irish – spends a small fortune educating and training these people, some of whom, as in any walk of life, end up with addiction problems. The tendency then is to force them out, and keep them out, rather than risk them damaging their patients.

Not only is that approach inhumane, in its writing off of people who get into trouble. It also costs the State a lot of money, in the costs training them in the first place, not to mention payoffs and pensions. For 10 to 15000 pounds, they could be given treatment that would have a very good chance of sorting them out so they could go on to lead productive professional lives once more.

I was amazed to discover this was Ireland’s first addiction conference, which suggests that as in so many other countries, mental illness remains in the box in the corner of the room, marked stigma and taboo. I have been worried for some time that as austerity bites, mental health will once more return to the back of the queue when it comes to health spending decisions by governments.

That is why we need to keep making these powerful ‘false economy’ arguments, and make sure the policy makers hear them. I met recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. The care they were getting was intense, and the costs would be considerable.

But then so were the costs already incurred by health services, police services, the criminal justice system, the welfare system, and all the other areas of public policy where as a result of our failure to tackle addiction issues properly public money gets spend dealing with the considerable aftermath.

Good luck for the rest of the conference, and above all good luck to the young woman from Milton Keynes who is heading home today after several weeks of therapy for alcohol addiction, and who says she has never felt more confident about facing the future.

  • Mary-Ann Sheehy

     Yes the cost of failing properly to address addiction is enormous.  The Labour Government’s approach of dishing out methodone to get people off the streets rather than addressing the addiction itself was disastrous.  This government is utterly atrocious in every single respect, save, I believe (hope) that it recognises the value of therapeutic rehabilitation centres.  Of course, these are massively expensive but the outcomes are good and this approach is far superior. Having said that, i presume there is no money for either methodone, or rehab….

  • Anna

    I agree that we need to help those suffering from addictions but we also have to recognise that forcing and addict into treatment programmes is a total waste of money unless he/she really wants to change. It takes a huge effort of will to overcome addiction and without that motivation at the beginning, supported by skilled professional help, rehabilitation simple won’t occur.

  • Ian Eastwood

    Unless your moderator is behind, the very fact no comments have been posted shows the stigma that still exists around these sort of issue. Of course your comments state the facts quite clearly & maybe there is no one to disagree with them. That’ll be a first eh!!

  • Sophie Cartwright

    You are quite right about the costs being prohibitive, but as you allude to, the other costs to society are most considerable, dealing with potential criminal behaviour to support one’s addiction, of prolongued NHS treatment for associated diseases…but mostly, that we should be treating addicts as worthy human beings, who can, once treated, make a decent contribution to society.
    I have attended your talk this afternoon at South Staffordshire College, most inspiring!

  • Shirley Davis

    I know something about alcohol problems, not personally, but enough to feel I know enough to comment.

    Any illness deserves compassion and treatment, plus, time out from normal life to get things sorted. More people with addiction problems would hold up their hands a lot sooner if:

    1 – the stigma were removed by the public knowing more ‘celebs’ who could return a positive story AND for that story be related by the media in a positive, compassionate manner. Less “ha, ha, caught you out” and more “well done for being brave enough to shout (help)”.

    2 – addiction treatment being on a par with, say, recovery from a broken leg “self-inflicted” because the employee was “daft” enough to play football at the weekend.

    3 – there were fully clued-up, recognised addiction therapy centres available rather than leaving things (for non-celebs) until social services have to be employed to give care, and the NHS have to prop up the sadly now-outcast sufferer.

    In short, nip things in the bud before the suckers take over (a horticultural reference).

    And, I do not apologise for my profuse “dog’s ears”…they signify my tongue-in-cheek references to how addicts are perceived by us all. We react with fear, disapproval, anger, but-for-the-grace-of-God etc, because we lack knowledge.

    Part of citizenship should be learning WHY too much alcohol will, in the end, be a bad move; WHY illegal drugs are not good for you (bar the grey cannabis area) etc.

    Inform, explain, put out the safety net, cut the fear and show the love.

    BTW – off topic – has anyone else thought GO looks VERY smug in this news photo?

  • Shirley Davis

    PS I used to log in with facebook – the apparent anonymity and newness is because I now have to use google – don’t ask me why!

  • Confidence and future imply, of course, that one can go forward with faith.
    Faith and trust that there is provision and that it is accessible and that one may yet, from  the darkness, have a future.
    When I failed and crashed – 10 years and counting – the overwhelming reaction from the educational and publishing world in which I worked was that I may be contagious, a plague carrier –  indeed a dalit.
    There could be no return.
    Marginalised in every way and shoved to the shadows.
    I am pleased to hear that in some way there may be a chink or glimmer of light as regards understanding.
    This at a time when this government is – incredibly – looking to use the present crises to make sacking staff even easier.
    Guaranteed to affect the most vulnerable and precarious first.
    I am sorry for the gloom and would be pleased indeed to see dawn morning sky in the amidst of the long dark night.

  • Olli Issakainen

    I wish I could share the optimism of the young woman you mentioned.
    But having read about the eurozone crisis whole day, it is a bit difficult.
    Interesting comments by Lord Heseltine in the Telegraph.
    According to him “the nation state is in decline everywhere – superseded by supra-national structures and blocs”.
    He goes on “we have unleashed forces that nation states simply can not regulate”. He then says that “we need not just political union within Europe – but, yes, ultimately some kind of global governance”.
    Global governance is, of course, Newspeak for a world government.
    Be prepared to hear a lot of this sort of talk in the future.  

  • Trudiemcguinness

    Alastair, thank you so much for the energy that you put into meeting students and staff at South Staffordshire College today and at the college’s HE graduation ceremony at Lichfield Cathedral tonight.

    We felt sure that you would inspire students to engage in politics, but your openness about your mental health issues will have touched many on a level that was quite unexpected. Thank you for all that you do to break down the stigma attached to depression.and mental illness.

    As promised, I shall report back to you on the Worcester result. And I take your warning about the marathon training: I shall get my trainers on in a few hours’ time and take those first steps. Take care.

  • Ehtch

    I suppose what could be suggested about mental health is about those successful people, albeit for a while, until “things” caught up with them, as with Chancellor Adolf Hitler, on whether they would be classed as suffering mental health problems, but judged as not needing therapy by their peers? There is obvously a heck of a lot of them in near and far distant history. Behind his back, Churchill was obviously called an alledged drunk and a lush, even.

    And how many film directors and actors in Holywood 1980’s relied on old charlie to keep on it and motivated for their successes?

    Also, the number of people that rely on painkillers for their psychologically side-effects is an incredible hidden addiction these days too, but with mainly personal health effects, rather than heavily socially destructive effects.

  • MicheleB

    I had addictive parents but am lucky to have stayed more scared of being dependent on anything than of what I might be using it against.

    I’ve been high once and hated it, had eaten cake I didn’t know had a special ingredient and was aware of someone that I felt as if I was standing beside ,,,, who was having a really good laugh but the joke wasn’t reaching me; like the edges of schizophrenia and separating myself from what would have been a good night out anyway.  Perhaps I’m just greedy?  I’ve been addicted to projects, working through the night etc etc but that needs a work environment that allows it so not everyone can have that particular freedom.

    I worry that people lose trust in themselves and credit drugs for their recovery or confidence or even think the latter is immodest.


  • Robert

    It would be nice if supermarkets didn’t have stacks of booze between the doors and the main shelves, and not have piles of booze in the special promotion spots at the ends of the aisles.

    Same goes for cookery programs promoting putting booze in cooking.

    Even cuddly Woman’s Hour on BBCRadio4 had a piece last week on Christmas fair that was cooked swilling in booze – I didn’t hear the whole programme but I’d like to believe there were equally enthusiastic articles on the problems caused to women by alcohol addiction. (A fairly recent piece on WH by Alex Salmond on proposed Scots alcohol legislation comes to mind.)

  • MicheleB

    You seem obsessed about this Olli, through economics and on to mysterious evil families intent on world domination.

    You could be right, in a few centuries the whole world could be organised enough and equal enough that the various dreaded control-freaks can take over and rule but won’t it require humans to be drugged so that 1Govt will never have uprisings to deal with?  The 20 or 30 or so of regulars on AC’s blog can’t even fall in line and conform and who’d want us to?  How the heck can it be expected of zillions of people on a ball-shaped planet spinning around and not sharing very many environmental conditions in any 24hr cycle?

    Oh well, it’s Saturday night 🙂

  • I am back as the real me – phew, thank goodness for that!

  • Ehtch

    I believe Alastair does all the moderating himself. Sounds as if he has had a busy weekend, so explains the build up of posts. Have a look at his tweets to see if he is having a busy time.

  • Ehtch

    Germany is seriously in a corner here, and subliminally being bullied by past times by present cowardly Europe, including that prick of ours, Cameron the chancer. Go on your own Germany, I say, and fuck the rest of Europe. Yes, I mean it, leave the rest of us swill in what is left. Harsh lessons is best. All the best to you Germany.
    Song, for Germany,

  • I reckon this policy is going to have to be “fleshed out” a good deal more before it istreated as other than a get tough measure on (choose from) welfare dependency, crime, child neglect, drug addiction, lack of motivation, etc. We should be …. A pack of roll your owns, a carton of cans or a tinny would all cost about $25 which could be put to much better use in a household funded by our taxes. My point is more ….. Clearly youfailed to read my comment. I know a lot of .