A thought provoking letter…

Howard King (Head of Inclusion) wrote an interesting letter published in February’s edition of the DDN magazine. Hopefully, this letter will hopefully encourage discussions around the national trends on both recovery rates and drug related deaths.

Off the mark?

I am sure you know the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Two weavers promise him a new suit that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When he parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that they don’t see any suit of clothes on him for fear that this is how they will be seen. Arguably this is how the treatment field has been treating recovery.

Because commissioners say they want it, guidance says we should do it and everybody else says how they great they are at it, we feel we must go along for fear of being described as ‘unfit for our positions, stupid, or incompetent’. 

We can talk about recovery but we can’t hide from the facts, namely:

  1. The NDTMS website shows the current recovery rate for opiate users is 6.6 per cent – a drop from 8.59 per cent in 2011/12. For all service users the rate is 38.24 per cent, a rise since 2011/12 of just 3.52 per cent.
  2. Drug-related deaths have risen and continue to rise. They are at their highest point since data was first collected in 1993.

I am not suggesting that aiming for recovery is wrong. I am not trying to make an argument that harm reduction is somehow better than the focus on recovery. All I am saying is that for all the talk of recovery, the evidence suggests that we are not very good at making it happen. 

This isn’t just a provider issue. Commissioners have been commissioning ‘recovery focused’ services for a number of years and yet the recovery rate has dropped. As they have pushed for more recovery, and the providers have responded with plans, initiatives and service models that don’t appear to work, drug-related deaths have risen.

If you were in central government and could see that all the investment into the field was achieving an annual recovery rate that was dropping, would you continue to invest? Perhaps it’s time we all had a realistic discussion about what can be achieved before it’s too late.

Howard King

Head of Inclusion