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'Addicted man of Europe': Study says drug, alcohol addiction a crisis in UK

Published time: September 01, 2013 17:25
Edited time: September 02, 2013 05:51
Reuters / Nigel Roddis

Reuters / Nigel Roddis

The UK is the addiction capital of Europe, with some of the highest rates of opiate and alcohol dependency as well as a worldwide hub for so-called ‘legal highs’.

A new report by the think-tank the Centre for Social Justice (the CSJ) found that the UK has become “the addicted man of Europe” with alcohol and drug abuse costing the tax payer 21 billion and 15 billion pounds respectively.

The addiction crisis is further fueling the breakdown of society, while the number of alcohol related hospital admissions has doubled in a decade, in what the CSJ warns is “an epidemic of drink-related conditions”.

A quarter of adults in the UK were found to drink to dangerous levels, with one in 20 found to be “dependent drinkers”. Liver disease is now one of the big killers in the UK alongside heart disease, strokes and cancer.

Alcohol dependence was second highest among men in Western Europe and seventh overall worldwide, while there are more female alcoholics in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. 

“We’ve had an unhealthy relationship with it for some time. While the general public is drinking less at the acute end the problem is getting worse, people who work in Accident and Emergency say it’s a revolving door,” Alex Burghart, the director for policy at the CSJ, told RT.

Reuters / Nigel Roddis

He believes the government should introduce a tax on alcohol, which could then be used for treatment.

“The government has backed away from an alcohol pricing strategy; there should be an additional tax for alcohol, which could then be used for treatment for alcoholics. Our intervention is rubbish; the number of alcoholics in treatment is considerably lower than the number of heroin addicts,” Burghart told RT.

“While our addiction problem damages the economy, it is the human consequences that represent the real tragedy. Drug and alcohol abuse fuels poverty and deprivation, leading to family breakdown and child neglect, homelessness, crime, debt and long-term worklessness,” said Christian Guy, the director of the CSJ.

Methadone, a substitute for heroin

The report, which is called No Quick Fix, also criticized the government for its “inadequate response to heroin addiction”. More than 40,000 heroin addicts in England have been stuck on methadone, which is used but is rarely effective, to try and wean them off heroin.

More than a third of people prescribed methadone in Britain have been on it for more than four years, with one in 25 for more than a decade; this is a rise of 40 percent since the coalition took office in 2010.

As local government feels the pinch of austerity, 55 percent of local councils in England have had their funding cut for residential drug treatment, what is known as rehab or rehabilitation, despite Cameron arguing that he wants to see more residential drug programs. Sending a heroin addict to rehab is regarded by doctors working in the field as the only possible way of getting them off the drug, and even then there are no guarantees. 

Reuters / Darren Staples

“Methadone can be a way of stabilizing chaotic drug users, but we found evidence that it is being used to keep a lid on problems. Large amounts of addicts are stranded on this state-supplied substitute and forgotten. This broken system is no different to taxpayers supporting an alcoholic by prescribing them vodka instead of them drinking gin,” said Guy.

This view was echoed by Burghart, “Initially methadone was used to keep the public safe from drug related crime and to stop the spread of HIV but the majority of people on methadone are stuck on it, out of mainstream society.”

Britain was also top of the list in life time users of amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy, with the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in second place.

Legal highs

Also known as new psychoactive substances (NPS), the CSJ found that one in 12 or 670,000 15-24 year olds had tried them, an increase of 39 percent since 2005/06. 52 people died of legal highs last year.

The report attacked the government for failing to deal with the problem, calling their response “bureaucratic and inadequate”.  While ministers had used temporary banning orders to try and control substances, since 2010 150 new legal highs have come on to the market and were available online and in shops.

Both legal and illegal drugs are now widely brought over the internet. By using Bit Coin and a website called the Silk Road, the authorities are practically powerless to find out the drugs origin, and the postal service is acting as an unwilling drugs courier.

Reuters / Darren Staples

Drug and alcohol dependency was also found to reflect the north/south divide with 26 of the 30 local authorities with the highest rate of alcohol related hospital admissions in the north of England.

“The problem is not spread evenly; it’s an enormous problem facing some parts of the UK. In Middlesbrough one person in 40 is using crack cocaine,”Burghart told RT.

Breaking free

Noreen Oliver, chairman of the CSJ review had stark words of warning and said much more must be done if Britain as a country is to get to grips with the problem.

“Alcohol is taking an increasing toll across all services in the UK and new emerging drugs are causing more harm – all the while funding to rehabilitation centers is being dramatically cut and methadone prescribing is being protected,” said Oliver.

Despite some slow progress in this last three years, much more needs to be done to tackle the root causes of addiction so that people have a better chance of breaking free,” she added.

Burghart, however, disagreed; saying that it was misleading to say the problem is getting better.

While there has been a slight decrease in the number of people drinking every day and the number of heroin addicts has dropped slightly, those who are dependent on other substances has continued to rise. He cited a disturbing rise in the use of Skunk cannabis, which has caused a significant increase in the number of people presenting with serious psychological disorders.