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DAILY POST YOUR VOICE IN WALES: Drug abuse is a serious contagion.

THE COST to the health services and society at large of alcohol and drug abuse is colossal - and growing - yet its treatment has long been regarded more as a luxury than a necessity.

For several years warnings have been ignored and most of the major work in this field has been shouldered by over-subscribed charities.

Not for the first time this newspaper has pointed out the short-sightedness of this approach. Treating incipient drug dependency while it can still be treated saves health, social and police services a potential fortune, not to mention the costs associated with broken families, antisocial behaviour and long-term unemployment.

Yet treatment remains firmly in the Cinderella department. The seriousness of alcohol abuse as an endemic medical disease as well as social curse simply is not recognised - presumably because it is self-administered. Moral disapproval and judgementalism clouds the effects. If such individuals were carriers of a contagion they would be treated soon enough.

Yet they are - and they are not.

Now, as if vastly insufficient funds were not already being set aside, these paltry amounts are to be scaled back further. We have not scratched the surface of the problem - yet are having to decide where the meagre funds are to be spent because there is not enough for both residential and community-based programmes.

The fact that people have died - and will continue to do so - before they have been able to access treatment, will not elicit the same degree of sympathy as would patients waiting for treatment for more orthodox and less-blameworthy medical conditions and diseases.

But unless we start viewing acute substance abuse and addiction for what it is, and understanding what harm it is having on the public at large (we can do it with "passive" smoking so why not "passive" drinking?) we will be storing up immeasurable problems for the future.

Meanwhile we allow people to drink until they exhibit acute medical symptoms which we then rush (or possibly not) to treat.

Early treatment, regular counselling, public education could achieve so much along with a sea-change in public attitudes. It could also save the NHS billions.

We cannot save everyone from themselves but we must accept they are genuinely sick. If we decide they are beyond hope and leave them lying by the wayside that is a moral decision we should take as a society. But not do it by default.
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Title Annotation:Leaders
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 16, 2007
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