Health

Shopping vouchers help addicts stay off crack

Rocks of crack cocaine
Image caption Crack cocaine addicts are being given shopping vouchers to encourage them to stay clean

Giving drug addicts rewards for staying clean has a 'dramatic' affect on the success of treatment programmes, according to a leading figure in the world of addiction.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, the Director of the UK 's National Addiction Centre said that he was astonished at the effect the schemes had on patients.

Research shows that outcomes from treatment programmes can be improved by about 50% by offering addicts incentives like shopping vouchers.

The issue is discussed on the BBC Radio 4 programme Sugaring the Pill.

Shopping vouchers

The idea of rewarding people to lose weight or give up smoking is nothing new.

And the success of these programmes remained questionable for a long time.

However increasing evidence, mainly from programmes in the US, has shown that giving patients a reward for achieving their goals can have an significant effect.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Programme Sugaring the Pill Professor John Strang, the Director of the National Addiction Centre in London said: "I think that incentives are the single most exciting thing that's happened in the addictions field for a long time.

"We were astonished. For a trivial cost we can make treatments more effective."

According to Professor Strang, giving people rewards increases the effectiveness of some programmes by half.

He is overseeing a project currently running in Lambeth in London.

The Harbour Steps trial runs for 8 weeks.

Participants earn a small credit each time they give a crack-free urine sample.

They receive £1 for the first clean test, then 50p for each subsequent one.

Lee is being tested three times a week. So far he has earned £7 If he has a further two clean tests he will receive a £10 bonus.

He told BBC Radio 4: "I've been doing cocaine for 20 years on and off. I tried to give up in 2008, but I'm really positive that I want to give up cocaine now."

If he completes the full programme he could receive £337 in shopping vouchers.

Professor Strang chaired the NICE committee that proposed bringing in such schemes in the UK in 2007.

He said he was surprised at how powerful a benefit incentives were and how strange that it wasn't they weren't being used more.

Sugaring the Pill is on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 26th October 2010 at 2100 BST. The programme is repeated on Wednesday 27th October 2010 at 1630 BST.

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