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Groundbreaking new NTA research offers new hope for drug addicts

In an international first, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) has tracked the post-treatment journey of thousands of drug users over a four year period and has discovered that almost half of those discharged in one year subsequently demonstrated sustained recovery from addiction.

The NTA matched four years' worth of National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) data with Drug Test Records (DTR) and the Drug Interventions Programme (DIP) to evaluate the long-term outcomes of drug treatment for 41,475 people who left drug treatment in England in the financial year 2005-06. It included both those who left treatment in a planned way, and those who dropped out.

The key findings were:

  • Strong evidence of sustained recovery from addiction was found for almost half of all the clients discharged from treatment during 2005-06. Around 46% neither came back into treatment, nor were they found to be involved in drug related offending in the following four years.
  • Of the remainder discharged in 2005-6, about half of them came back directly into treatment, mostly within a year; and a further one-third were re-directed back into treatment through contact with the criminal justice system.
  • Of those who left treatment but subsequently re-offended using drugs, 65% went back into treatment.  This indicates they got a second chance to overcome their addiction.  

Around 200,000 people get help for drug dependency in England every year. Most are addicted to heroin or crack cocaine, or both. They will have been using their drug or drugs of dependency for eight years on average before they seek treatment.

The NTA undertook the research on behalf of the Home Office in order to gain a clearer picture of the effectiveness of treatment than that presented by the snapshot published each October in the NDTMS annual statistics.

Chief Executive of the NTA Paul Hayes said:

"These findings are very exciting because they help us define more accurately what 'success' looks like for drug treatment.

"Typically, a user coming into treatment is heavily addicted, in poor health and has low self-esteem.  They are often at their peak of criminal activity and the prospects for long-term recovery from drug addiction can seem bleak.

"Experts agree that heroin and crack cocaine users take several years to overcome addiction, and need repeated attempts before they do.   This means annual statistical reports of numbers in drug treatment can present a distorted picture of a system that is subject to a steady ebb and flow of people coming and going over a longer time frame.

"Now, thanks to our extensive NDTMS database, we can follow the treatment journey of individuals over successive years and demonstrate to users and the people who work with them that positive change and recovery from addiction is possible."

This is the first time a study of this kind has been possible. Although there is no international long-term equivalent study based on live client data, the results compare favourably with longitudinal studies about the prospects of individuals' recovery from even the most entrenched addiction.



The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) is a National Health Service (NHS) special health authority which aims to improve the availability, capacity and effectiveness of drug treatment in England.  We help people to overcome addiction and regain their lives.

A Long Term Study of the Outcomes of Drug Users Leaving Treatment September 2010 can be found on the NTA website

For further information about the NTA please contact Lynne Nasti, Senior Communications Officer (Media), on 020 7972 1920 (business hours) or 07747 535961 (out of hours) or visit our website at www.nta.nhs.uk.

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