A pilot scheme is encouraging druggies to kick the habit by giving them money to donate to charity
TEENAGE drug addicts who agree to attend detoxification programmes will be offered a chance to get high on philanthropy instead.
Young substance abusers in Ireland will be given financial donations for their favourite charities to help them to kick their habits.
The Drug Treatment Centre Board (DTCB), an independent, government-funded organisation that offers support services to drug users in Dublin, has launched the initiative, which has already helped some addicts to rebuild their lives.
Nine teenagers participated in a pilot scheme that raised €3,115 for a range of charities including the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), The Jack & Jill Children’s Foundation and the Temple Street Children’s University hospital in Dublin.
The teenagers, some of whom donated €600 each, were paid nominal amounts to attend counselling sessions, stay off drugs and commit themselves to educational and personal goals.
Participants were paid €1 for every urine test they passed and €10 a week for attending counselling sessions.
Bobby Smyth, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist who established the pilot programme, said offering financial incentives to teenage drug addicts was controversial but an effective way to encourage them to abstain.
“The public can sometimes object to drug users being paid money not to use drugs, but international experience has shown that it can work. This project is different in so far as we are trying to make these young people feel good about themselves by donating money to charity,” he said.
“In many cases, teenagers who use drugs come from troubled backgrounds and suffer from low self-esteem. When they give money to charity, it creates a feel-good factor. It helps to give them confidence and a purpose in life,” he added.
The pilot initiative was operated from the young person’s programme at the DTCB at Trinity Court in Dublin over 12 weeks during the summer.
“The clients who committed themselves to the programme seemed to get a lot out of it. We used a number of psychological measures to look at changes in their wellbeing during the pilot and we found improvement in all domains, especially in their self-esteem. We also found reductions in drug use and successful detox completion,” said Smyth.
“I think the teenagers obtained a deep satisfaction from the knowledge that their efforts in addressing their own addictions were going to have benefits for others. As far as I am concerned, this project also challenges the stereotype that all drug users are self-centred and don’t care about anyone else,” he added.
Sarah, a 16-year-old former heroin user from Dublin who participated in the pilot scheme, has raised €636 for the ISPCC.
“When I signed up, I decided to send any money that I made to the ISPCC because they are helping young children and that means a lot to me,” she said.
“The ISPCC wrote to me to say thanks for the money. It was the first time that I had ever given money away to a good cause. It was also the first time that anyone had ever written a letter to thank me for anything, and that meant a lot to me,” said Sarah, who started using cannabis and heroin when she was 14.
# John Mooney
# Times Online
# October 26, 2008