Skip to main content

Europe: British Prisons Install Methadone Vending Machines

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #595)
Politics & Advocacy

In a bid to promote opiate maintenance therapy behind bars, the British government has begun installing methadone vending machines in the country's prisons. Justice Minister Phil Hope told parliament last week that 57 vending machines have been installed so far.

The machines allow prisoners to receive an individualized dose of methadone by giving a fingerprint or an iris scan. The machines are paid for by the Department of Health and will cost about $6.5 million dollars, about 10% of the department's prison drug treatment budget. The target is to have the machines in half of Britain's 140 prisons.

According to the latest available prison population statistics, in 2007, nearly 6,400 of Britain's 81,000 prisoners were there on drug charges, with slightly more than half of them charged with simple drug possession or possession with intent to distribute. The official statistics provide no breakdown of which drugs were involved.

"Methadone dispensers are a safe and secure method for providing a prescribed treatment," said a health department spokesman. "They can only be accessed by the person who has been clinically assessed as needing methadone and that person is recognized by a biometric marker, such as their iris."

Providing methadone to addicted prisoners allows them to manage their habits without resorting to illicit heroin supplies within the prisons. But the opposition Conservatives were quick to try to score political points, claiming that the Labor government would rather "manage offenders' addiction" than end it.

"The public will be shocked that Ministers are spending more on methadone vending machines than the entire budget for abstinence based treatments," said Dominic Grieve, the Conservative shadow justice secretary. "Getting prisoners clean of drugs is one of the keys to getting them to go straight. We need to get prisoners off all drug addiction -- not substitute one dependency for another. The government's approach of trying to 'manage' addiction is an admission of failure."

The Conservatives are hammering away at Labor any way they can as they prepare for national elections sometime in the coming months. Attacking enlightened approaches to inmate drug addiction is just another arrow in their "tough on crime" quiver.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


CBO (not verified)

I think this is a great idea, they should have this in the states so there would be less recidivism in the state prison system. As a patient of a methadone clinic I know how great it is when I got out of prison and did not want to go back to using again, I was not on methadone in prison because our laws do not provide the treatments needed to get users on the right road to recovery. viva britain!!!!!

Fri, 07/24/2009 - 1:39pm Permalink
deana (not verified)

it's nice to see people coming to their senses..being someone with lots of experience in this field..i dunno what is wrong with aceepting certain things about people that cannot be changed, and make them manageable and socially acceptable.

Fri, 07/24/2009 - 3:48pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

This is great. You can't just 'end' an addiction without stabilizing the patient first. Methadone does that. Don't get me wrong even though Methadone saved my life it caused Diabetic Neuropathic Gastroparesis (paralyzed stomach.) So I think it is important for doctors to warn patients of long term dangers of using Methadone. Long term meaning 5 years or longer. If I would have detoxed off Methadone after only 5 or 6 years I may never have developed gastroparesis. Now I have to use another Schedule I drug to control chronic nausea and vomiting from gastroparesis...Marijuana. Although Medical Marijuana is still illegal in the state where I live, it is also the safest, most therapeutically active drug known to man for chronic nausea and vomiting control. So say's Francis L. Young-DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, 1988. His exact words, or close enough, were, "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest, most therapeutically active substances known to man. It would be arbitrary, unreasonable and capricious for the DEA to continue to stand between the benefits of the substance and the sufferer's." I am tired of living in fear and paying inflated prices for non-medical marijuana i.e. schwag, now is the time to legalize Medical Marijuana everywhere.

Fri, 07/24/2009 - 4:16pm Permalink
J M Jones (not verified)

Wow...... speachless.
However, if one considers the logic which is taken for granted, that of replacing one drug with anoter, its pragmatic, yes, but does it move things on?
Is illicit drug use a medical or social problem?
If you think its medical, then of course it appears sensible to replace one drug with another.
However, if one thinks the nature of the beast is a social problem, where then is the logic in replacing one drug with another? {Not to mention locking up ever increasing proportions of the population: 30% of all UK males now have criminal convictions..... but our MP's keep getting away with it of course.....}
The Netherlands has an approach radically different from Sweden, and yet both countries fair far far better than the UK in most respects to do with illicit drug use.
Where then is the difference: both the Netherlands and Sweden look after their populations - social care in all respects is way way above that in the UK.
Perhaps then, here lies the difference.............. a House of Commons report this week revealed that the gap between the rich and poor in the UK has increased out of all proportion: one central Labour (government) policy was specifically to engage in social engineering in order to reduce the gap between the rich and poor.............. so much for that - Labour are more right wing than atilla the hun ever was, fact.
Its just draw dropping how bizarre this stuff is, and it keeps going on, and on, and on............ what next one wonders - lock up the whole population and feed them soma?

Fri, 07/24/2009 - 7:00pm Permalink
borden (not verified)

In reply to by J M Jones (not verified)

J M,

The locking up that's going on is because of the attempt to keep people from using "soma," as you put it. So your question sounds a little backward from my perspective.

As for whether methadone moves things on -- the scientific evidence indicates an unambiguous "yes." Methadone patients in high percentages stop committing crimes, improve their health, hold down jobs, take care of their families, etc. That's what it's about.

The same has been found for the heroin maintenance programs in Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, Vancouver Canada's trial program, maybe soon England again.

All this illustrates one of the cruelest self-defeating qualities of drug prohibition -- the effect it has one the lifestyles of the addicted. Many addicts could function normally if they had legal and affordable access to the drugs they are hooked on. That might not be a perfect life to have, but as Bob Newman has put it, we should not "make the best the enemy of the good." I would add that we should "live and let live."

- Dave

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Fri, 07/24/2009 - 7:17pm Permalink
someone with sense (not verified)

This is great news!!!  Unless you have had an opiate addiction, you will never know just how bad the withdrawal symptoms are!!!  Methadone Maintenance is proven to work, so why not do everything we can to make those with addiction problems comfortable and able to live a normal life.  It makes me sick to see people who has no ideal how bad withdrawling from opiates is, making all the decisions for the people who are suffering everyday due to someone elses ignorance!!!  Why cant people see that theres always going to be people using drugs!  You will never be able to STOP completely people from using.  Thats why you have to have something to help those people.  Go Britain!!!

Fri, 10/07/2011 - 12:24am Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.