Public opinion of drug treatment policy: Exploring the public's attitudes, knowledge, experience and willingness to pay for drug treatment strategies

C Matheson, M Jaffray, Mandy Elaine Ryan, C M Bond, Kristen Fraser, M Kirk, A Liddell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Research evidence is strong for opiate replacement treatment (ORT). However, public opinion (attitudes) can be at odds with evidence. This study explored the relationships between, attitudes, knowledge of drugs and a range of socio-demographic variables that potentially influence attitude. This is relevant in the current policy arena in which a major shift from harm reduction to, rehabilitation is underway.

Methods: A cross sectional postal questionnaire survey in Scotland was conducted where the drug, treatment strategy has changed from harm-reduction to recovery-based. A random sample (N = 3000), of the general public, >18 years, and on the electoral register was used. The questionnaire was largely structured with tick box format but included two open questions for qualitative responses. Valuation was measured using the economic willingness-to-pay (WTP) method.

Results: The response rate was 38.1% (1067/2803). Less than 10% had personal experience of drug, misuse but 16.7% had experience of drug misuse via a friend/acquaintance. Regression modelling revealed more positive attitudes towards drug users in those with personal experience of drug misuse, (p <0.001), better knowledge of drugs (p = 0.001) and higher income (those earning >50,000 pound per, annum compared to

Conclusions: There is a gap between public attitudes and evidence regarding drug treatment. Findings suggest a way forward might be to develop and evaluate treatment that integrates ORT with a community rehabilitative approach. Evaluation of public engagement/education to improve knowledge of drug treatment effectiveness is recommended. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-415
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue number3
Early online date17 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - May 2014

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank all those who took the time to complete this questionnaire, Hazel Riley for undertaking data entry and the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government for funding this project.


  • public opinion
  • drug treatment approaches
  • attitudes
  • treatment policy
  • opiate dependence
  • maintenance
  • methadone
  • services
  • harm


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