Encouraging drug or alcohol addicts to immediately stop their substance abuse is not the best way to avoid premature deaths, health bosses say.
Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which oversees mental health and recovery services in the county, says a “gradual” approach is better.
It says that if too much pressure is placed on addicts to kick their habit abruptly, there is a higher chance of relapse.
Through these relapses, the trust says there is often a surge in deaths from accidental overdoses.
It says that rather than advising that addicts drop from taking substances or alcohol on a regular basis to none at all, a “stepped” approach is often better, such as moving on to substitutes like methadone
The trust says in its report: “Substance misuse services have a notoriously high premature death rate.
“Analysis of data has indicated that if too much emphasis is directed towards driving recovery there is a high relapse rate and paradoxically increased death rate through accidental overdose, particularly of opiates and alcohol.
“The thresholds for recovery versus maintenance have therefore been adjusted.
“A research project is under development to look at big data to further understand the profile of high risk service users and to inform intervention.
“There is also a very active screening and vaccination campaign focussed on hepatitis.”
A trust spokesperson said: “Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is committed to supporting all patients with substance misuse issues towards their personal recovery.
“We are aware that this must be achieved through a gradual approach, working closely in partnership with the individual concerned.
“This is because there are risks associated with pushing someone to stop their misuse of substances too fast – and in some cases this could increase the likelihood of relapse or even accidental overdose.
“We therefore work carefully with an individual to plan and agree a stepped approach, with the ultimate aim of their being wholly drug-free after a period.
“Steps within this recovery could for example include use of a substitute drug, such as methadone, to provide support while people progress through their treatment plan.
“Overcoming drug or alcohol dependence is a difficult process for most people.
“The trust has started several new initiatives to reduce the harms caused by drugs, including a multi-agency team in Derby and a health improvement team supporting drug key-workers and offering health checks to drug users.”