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Professional Perspectives on Treatment for Substance Use Disorders with Mental Health Problems

People sitting outside in a circle on chairs


Ben Houghton, Alexis Bailey, Christos Kouimtsidis, Theodora Duka, Caitlin Notley


November 25, 2021

Background Opioid-related deaths are at record levels in the UK and contribute to over half of all drug-related deaths. The prevalence of psychiatric disorders within people who uses substances is known to be considerably higher than the general population, yet only 4% of people accessing treatment are thought to receive integrated care for coexisting conditions. This study aimed to explore perspectives on treatment for people with substance use disorders and coexisting psychiatric problems.

Methods Face-to-face semi-structured interviews with community drug workers, specialist nurses, prescribing administration worker and one clinical psychologist were conducted. Deductive analysis of three preconceived themes (i.e. reasons for substance use, treatment provision, the role of medication) was conducted.

Results There was agreement between drug treatment professionals and mental health professionals for the complexities for being in treatment for people who use substances. An expectancy of prolonged periods of abstinence from drug and alcohol use before psychological treatment would be initiated leading to relapse was reported. Individual judgements of practitioners, stigmatisation and fear of people who use substances and organisational barriers often meant psychological help was unavailable which contributed to a reliance on medication, against national clinical guidance which was known by only one interviewee.

Conclusion The UK drug treatment and mental health services should review the pathways to ensure that national guidelines are followed so that people who use substances are not excluded from accessing psychological therapies. Data from the coronavirus pandemic indicates heightened psychiatric problems, where illicit drug use may escalate as a means of self-medication leading to further increases in drug-related deaths.

This research was published in the Drug Science, Policy and Law Journal the definitive source of evidence-based information and comment for academics, scientists, policymakers, frontline workers and the general public on drugs and related issues.

For open-access to the full report of this research, see below:

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