UK Installing Methadone Vending Machines in Prisons

The UK government is spending 4 million pounds on a program to install methadone “vending machines” in prisons to help drug-addicted offenders wean off of heroin.

An article in the Telegraph UK writes the machines allow prisoners to receive a personalized dose of methadone automatically by giving a fingerprint or iris scan. Phil Hope, a justice minister, said that vending machines have been installed in 57 prisons so far. The goal is to have the machines installed in 70 of the 140 prisons in England and Wales.

However, the program has been very controversial. Conservatives claim the figures show that Ministers were prepared to “manage offenders’ addiction” rather than tackle the problem. Dominic Grieve, the shadow justice secretary, said, “The public will be shocked that Ministers are spending more on methadone vending machines than the entire budget for abstinence-based treatments.”

He continued, “Getting prisoners clean of drugs is one of the keys to getting them to go straight. We need to get prisoners off all drug addiction—not substitute one dependency for another. The Government’s approach of trying to ‘manage’ addiction is an admission of failure.”

A spokesman from the Department of Health said that it spends about 240 million pounds on prisoners’ health each year, with 40 million pounds going to drug treatment programs.

“Methadone dispensers are a safe and secure method for providing a prescribed treatment,” he said. “They can only be accessed by the person who has been clinically assessed as needing methadone and that person is recognized by a biometric marker, such as their iris.”