Drug abuse continues to be a problem across Europe. An article in the Independent this past week by Derek Gatapoulos entitled ‘Leave Drug Addiction Treatment out Of Your Austerity Cuts, Experts Warn Politicians’ (November 25, 2013) pointed out the danger of reducing the money spent on tackling this problem. This article uses the example of Greece where austerity cuts to addiction treatment have meant a huge increase in the number of people infected by HIV.
In the short term, it can appear tempting for European governments to reduce the amount of money spent on drug treatment. Statistics from the home office shows that the healthcare costs for treating this condition in the UK is about 3.6 billion pounds per year. The money spent for this type of treatment does make a tempting target for politicians, but the problem is that any attempt to cut this money is likely to be a ‘false economy’ (i.e. it may save money in the very beginning, but over time it ends up costing far more money).
The reality is that if this treatment is not provided, it will lead to increases in hospital costs and more money will need to be spent in tackling crime. People with an untreated addiction end up in a downward spiral which means that their mental and physical health steadily deteriorates. It is much cheaper to pay for these people to break away from addiction or encourage harm reduction strategies than it is to pay the costs produced by them continuing in the downward spiral.
The full cost of drug addiction in the UK has been well over a £100 billion this past decade – this is not even taking into consideration the indirect costs and human suffering. If drug treatment is not available, the situation is only going to deteriorate further. The costs of this problem include:
- Lost productivity due to people in the workforce taking time off and being less effective in their job.
- Lost productivity due to individuals becoming so overcome by addiction that they are unable to hold down a job.
- Hospital costs for both physical and mental health problems caused due to addiction; just sending an ambulance to take somebody who has overdosed to hospital costs £300 every time, before the person has received any treatment.
- The cost of tackling crime directly related to drug addiction; if individuals cannot find a legal way to feed their habit, they may turn to crime.
- Whole communities in the UK are being destroyed by the blight of drug addiction. Those who live in these communities are often at high risk of becoming a victim of crime, and they live in fear.
- Those people who are lost to addiction could be productive citizens if they got help. There are many successful individuals in the UK who needed to break away from addiction before they could do something useful with their life.
- Drug addiction causes many deaths, from not only the overdose and the harm caused by this substance in the body, but also because of suicide.
Hopefully European governments will heed the warning of how austerity cuts in Greece aimed at drug addiction have backfired in a big way. The HIV infections due to intravenous drug addiction have gone from 22 to 245 since these cuts were introduced. This is just one of the negative side effects of this type of tampering with the drug treatment budget, and it is likely that there will be even worse to come if this strategy is adopted across Europe.