MP's, Experts Condemn Drug Treatment Programme
Only 9% (5,532) of 61,000 users who left treatment in England last year were free of drugs, according to the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System.
A separate report by the National Treatment Agency (NTA), also published today, said 58% of addicts who attended drug clinics last year failed to complete treatment.
Members of the all-party parliamentary drugs misuse group said the success of the £500m-a-year NTA-run scheme had been "over hyped" by the government.
Brian Iddon, the group chairman, said too much emphasis had been placed on increasing the number of people going through treatment programmes rather than the quality of treatment they received.
The Labour MP said: "A lot of the NTA's work has been ticking boxes. It's outcomes that are important and the outcomes are poor. It's all very well getting people onto methadone treatment but how many people do they get off methadone? There's no measurement of that."
Paul Flynn, the group vice-chairman, said: "The case for treatment is exaggerated. The government has overstated its success. What works are needle exchanges and shooting galleries."
Danny Kushlick, director of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, questioned why the government was spending £500m a year on an approach that had achieved so little.
"The way the government hypes up treatment you would think that it was 94% of users who were leaving drug-free," he said.
Mr Kushlick said the reason why ministers were prepared to spend so much money on treatment was because they wanted to be seen to be tackling drug-related crime.
"The government and the NTA admit that treatment is about crime reduction," he said. "The only reason we have this situation is because of prohibition. We don't have £500m treatment programmes for alcohol or smoking because they're legal activities and users don't nick stuff or prostitute themselves to feed their addiction."
The NTA survey found that 195,464 drug users were in contact with treatment services in England in 2006-07. Three-quarters of new clients (60,000) stayed in treatment for at least 12 weeks, a fall of 1% from the previous year. Only 42% (27,500) completed the full course.
The number of users who left treatment drug-free rose slightly to 9% in the year to the end of March 2007, from 6% in the previous year.
The public health minister, Dawn Primarolo, hailed the figures as "a remarkable achievement".
"We have made massive strides in tackling the harm that drugs cause to both individuals and society as a whole," she said. (Yeah Right! Have you been taking lessons from Annette King and Jim Anderton?)
The former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith said the figures showed that the government's drugs policy was "a shambles".
The MP, who is the chairman of the Conservatives' social justice policy group, said: "The government, determined to announce that they are treating more and more people for drugs problems and thus meeting their targets, have conditioned those treating drug addicts to maintain them on substitutes like methadone.
"All the figures show that those maintained on methadone do not come off drugs and yet the government's record on providing rehabilitation facilities and courses is appalling."
Martin Barnes, the chief executive of DrugScope, said: "Unfortunately we are not surprised at the figures on retention and the small number of users discharged from treatment drug-free. Many people entering drug treatment have a range of different problems and lead difficult and chaotic lives. There are also problems inherent in a system driven by targets. "There is no evidence to demonstrate that retaining people in treatment for 12 weeks will necessarily be effective in itself; it is simply that if someone stays in treatment for that time, their eventual chance of success improves. It could take someone several months - or longer - to become drug-free and people may need several attempts at the treatment journey to succeed."