Addiction Treatment in UK

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The National Health Service in England provides a wide range of addiction treatment and services to drug users. The National Health Service recommends that a person visits a General Practitioner first so that they can recommend the best treatment method. In the United Kingdom, many General Practitioners actually provide treatment to drug users.

At local drug treatment service centers run by the government, first a drug user is accessed and when they qualify for treatment, they are given a key worker. The key worker recommended by the National Health Service may be a nurse, doctor or drugs worker. This person organizes the treatment the drug user needs and according to the needs of every individual, they develop a personalized care plan and the individual can attend one to one sessions.

There are also several voluntary treatment centers and private drug and alcohol treatment organizations in the United Kingdom that provide treatment. Some of the most common treatment approaches found at least in each treatment facility are counselling services, harm reduction services and aftercare and housing support services.Admission to NHS rehabilitation centers is free of charge and anyone can access these treatment centers. Persons seeking treatment are also assured of confidentiality and the rehabilitation centers are located near their local communities therefore providing a support structure. However, the main challenge is that admission may take a longer time period and to be admitted, one requires a referral from a clinic or treatment center. Patients can also be asked to attend different centers for treatment and unlike in private clinics where addicts have one therapist or member of staff caring for them through the entire period, in NHS rehabs, it may be different staff.


Private rehabilitation centers in the United Kingdom that provide treatment have the advantage that they have flexible treatment plans. Unlike NHS rehabilitation centers, the process of admission is faster and all the treatment is offered in one location therefore providing cohesion of care. Majority of private rehabilitation centers in the United Kingdom offer complementary therapies such as art therapy, equine therapy and gym.

Treatment demand data in the United Kingdom is reported in an aggregated form at the national level in four different systems which include the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System in England; the Scottish Drug Misuse Database; the Welsh National Database for Substance Misuse and the Northern Ireland Drug Misuse Database. The treatment demand data is collected from inpatient and outpatient centers, low threshold agencies, prisons and treatment units found in prisons. In 2013, 101,753 clients entered treatment and among this 35,229 were new clients.

Opioid was the primary drug of concern with 50 percent of those seeking treatment reporting it as the primary drug of concern. Cannabis was the second at 27 percent while 13 percent of the clients wanted help with cocaine. The primary drug of concern among new clients seeking treatment was cannabis at 49 percent. This was followed by opioids at 20 percent and cocaine at 17 percent. 26 percent of all the clients seeking treatment and 12 percent of the new clients reported injecting their primary drug of use.

The mean age of all the clients who sought treatment in 2013 according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), was 32 years while the mean age of new clients was 28 years. 76 percent of all the clients that sought treatment were male while among the new clients, 73 percent were male and the rest female.


Drug treatment strategies give priority to providing access to comprehensive and effective treatment. They are mainly focused on vulnerable and excluded groups. These treatment methods also encourage client retention, reintegration of patients to the society and recovery. Drug treatment in the United Kingdom is delivered through local multi-agency partnerships that represent social care services, criminal justice agencies and health.

The government measures the outcome of treatments using the treatment outcome measure – that is the number of clients once released from treatment are free from drugs and dependency.

Methadone prescription for opioid use is legally allowed and is prescribed to drug users to provide detoxification, stabilization, maintenance and to prevent relapse. Local treatment agencies are required to provide information and advice to clients, care planning, screening, psychosocial interventions, community prescribing, residential rehabilitation and inpatient drug treatment. Persons who abuse drugs should also be offered aftercare services and relapse prevention programmes when possible.

In 2012, guidance on recovery oriented treatment was published by experts in the field of drug addiction treatment and it offered a new framework on best practices for practitioners and development of recovery resources. Further practitioners got a manual to use and diagnostic tools for partnership were developed that supported effective recovery focused intervention that optimized treatment.

There is also a Drug Intervention Programme targeting drug users who are under the criminal justice system and in prison. The programme offers several treatment options and social integration responses through criminal justice intervention.

The most common treatment for opioids in the United Kingdom is the Opioid Substitution Treatment which is mainly offered by specialist outpatient drug treatment centers. This is commonly achieved through shared care arrangements with general practitioners. Methadone prescribed orally is the most common prescription drug although at times it is substituted with buprenorphine which has been used since 1999. Diamorphine which is another prescription for Opioid Substitution Treatment is also used although rarely.

The law provides for prescription and administering of controlled drugs by medical practitioners. This is provided for in Section 7.3(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971). In 1991, legislation was passed in the United Kingdom that sought to integrate the criminal justice system with health and that separated medical and punitive responses to persons who had committed crimes.

According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), majority of persons seeking treatment in the United Kingdom are older users who have abused drugs for a longer period. Majority of these users have also gone into treatment more than once and relapsed. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends talking therapies apart from prescriptions in a bid to change behaviors of the drug users. In the United Kingdom substitution treatment options are not available to addicts of crack cocaine and persons who are dependent on cocaine and cannabis.


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