David Cameron whipped out some old-school common sense today when he gave his first speech to the Tory party conference since becoming prime minister this summer. Maybe, he suggested, taxpayers shouldn't be paying for drug treatments that don't really work, especially when they involve the government dispensing even more addictive drugs.
U.K. taxpayers currently pay for methadone for over 150,000 recovering heroin addicts. Britain's National Health Service runs a National Treatment Agency for Substance Abuse that spends over $1 billion on drug treatment each year—with the result that in 2009, only 15,000 of the 160,000 addicts treated by the agency were able to kick their addictions (insomuch as you can totally kick a heroin addiction, of course).
Cameron has had enough and today he opened a discussion on the phasing-out of government methadone clinics as part of a larger reform effort for the British justice system:
We also have to recognise where the state is failing on crime. We spend £41,000 a year on each prisoner—and within a year of leaving, half of them reoffend.
There are 150,000 people in Britain today who get their heroin substitutes on the state, their addictions maintained by the taxpayer.
We have police officers who spend more time on paperwork than they do on patrol. It's here that reform is needed most.
So let's get our best charities to help rehabilitate offenders, our best social enterprises to get people off drugs.
But methadone reform is more complicated than mere cost-cutting: In the U.S., as in Britain, methadone distribution has become an entitlement for certain segments of the population. And we all know how difficult getting rid of those can be.
Last year, Jacob Sullum argued that if we're going to give addicts drugs, we might as well give them actual heroin.