NHS drug clinics are looking to radically transform the UK’s drug prevention strategy; one part of this involves offering financial incentives to heroin users. The groundbreaking study will see 33 NHS and voluntary clinics give out £10 shopping vouchers to users of opiate drugs (including heroin) who can provide clean samples of urine at their weekly meeting with key workers.
The idea for this came after a similar trial proved successful. The separate study found that when heroin addicts were offered financial incentives as encouragement to be vaccinated for hepatitis B (HBV), there was a ‘striking’ increase in uptake.
The research is being carried out by experts from three London universities and is being led by current and former advisors to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Professor John Strang from the National Addiction Centre at King’s College London led the previous trial and accepts that some people may find the idea controversial,
“We understand that ill-at-ease feeling because it will be what we ourselves are feeling. But the nature of medicine and its development is that you need to examine the evidence and improve methods of treatment.”
In the HBV vaccine trial it was found that those who were offered financial incentives were almost five times more likely to complete the course of vaccinations within 28 days than those who were offered no incentives. Professor Strang says the evidence makes this form of incentive a strong candidate for rollout across the UK.
The latest trial is likely to be more controversial, however the team behind the research view financial incentives as a powerful tool for improving health and could help to break the line between poverty and poor health.