Experts have said that the offering of a financial incentive could completely change drug prevention therapy in the UK.
Drug clinics under the NHS have started offering drug users financial incentives to quit.
This new study involves 33 voluntary and NHS clinics where drug users are given a £10 shopping voucher if they are able to provide the clinic with a clean urine sample during their weekly meeting with their support worker.
This move was prompted when the team doing the trial showed evidence of a previous study where heroin users were offered financial incentives to take hepatitis B vaccinations. This particular study indicated a huge increase in participants. The team undertaking the study said that an increase in the vaccinations would have huge benefits in preventing infection spread among the drug users and others.
The research is currently being done by health experts from three of London’s top universities. It is being led by former and current advisers to the National Centre for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).
The leader of this study from the National Addiction Centre at King’s College London, Professor John String, stated that he and the rest of the team realise that people may feel uncomfortable about offering handouts to illicit drug users. However, he stated that financial incentives that resulted in clinical benefits were a powerful tool that can be used to improve public health. He said that the nature of medicine and developing it is that evidence needs to be examined and treatment methods need to be improved.
Full results of this study should be ready for publication within two years.
During the team’s HBV vaccine trial 210 people who were already on drug treatment programmes at NHS clinics across the country were used. Four of the clinics offered drug users supermarket vouchers to the value of £10 if they went for each of the three vaccinations.
Another group of drug users was offered vouchers of different values.
The patients who are offered these incentives are almost five times more likely to take up and complete the programme within 28 days, than others who do not have access to incentives.
The second trial that the team is undertaking which involves ascertaining if incentives will encourage heroin abstinence is said to be more controversial than the HBV trials. Voucher and cash incentives have proved to be an extremely powerful tool in trying to improve the health of people who fall into lower-income groups.
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