21st September issue

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Trial by public

The importance of not playing to the gallery

At this year’s DDN/Alliance service user involvement conference back in January, one of our speakers reported on her participation in the Random Injectable Opioid Treatment Trial (RIOTT). A survey half way through the trial had reported considerable success in reducing chaotic drug use through a regime of supervised diamorphine injections, she said, telling our conference delegates ‘the way forward is for service users to ask joint commissioners to start trials in their areas. It makes sense – it works, it saves lives.’

This week the results of the RIOTT were made public and debate took to the airwaves, newspapers and blogosphere. Reporting that the reductions in heroin use have been ‘quite spectacular’, Professor John Strang, who led the trial, called for the treatment to be made more widely available (news, page 4). But the impressive outcomes have inevitably been drowned out by clamour against the prospect of ‘shooting galleries’ up and down the country. Even where some broadsheets have attempted to examine the topic rationally, readers have not followed suit in their online fora – all of which detracts from the essential point that this trial is directed against a small but significant percentage of the treatment population, people for whom this evidence-based intervention could mark a life-transforming turning point.

From RIOTTS to calm… and our cover story finds out more about a holistic programme based in the Cotswolds that gives clients a chance to look at spiritual wellbeing as well as physical needs. One of the interesting aspects of Inishfree’s work is the focus on social responsibility, beginning with a harmonious relationship with the local community – from supplying volunteer workers for local businesses, to looking after pets while their owners are away. It’s a far cry, and a welcome one, from the ‘them and us’ culture manifested in placard-wielding protests to a new treatment centre, sent to me in press cuttings recently – and in reactions to the RIOTT trial.

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