Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy More prisoners than ever treated for “speedball” addiction behind bars

More prisoners than ever treated for “speedball” addiction behind bars

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Latest figures released by Public Health England today reveal a rise in the number of adult prisoners being treated for a cocktail of heroin and crack cocaine, also known as ‘speedballing’. 

The report, analysed by drug addiction treatment experts UKAT, reveals that of the 53,193 people treated in secure settings between 2018 and 2019, 38% (20,119) were treated for both opiate and crack cocaine addiction, a 27% rise in just three years. 

The rise to ‘speedball’ addiction is attributed by experts at UKAT to dealers offering addicts discounts and BOGOF (buy one, get one free) offers. 

Nuno Albuquerque, Group Treatment Lead at addiction treatment provider UKAT said:  ‘Speedballing is becoming more prevalent since the price of crack cocaine has dramatically lowered in recent years, and is now being offered by dealers alongside heroin in ‘buy one,get one free’ deals to addicts.

‘Using an opiate like heroin and a stimulant like crack cocaine together is extremely dangerous because both drugs provide conflicting effects on the body: heroin sedates the user and gives a feeling of calm while crack increases activity and energy levels. It’s a push-pull effect and can completely confuse and shock the body. Taking the two together doubles the risk of permanent side effects and also death.’

UKAT outlines how the proportion of inmates being treated for speedballing has risen dramatically in the last three years. 

Total adults treated in secure settings 

Adults treated for opiate and crack cocaine use

% of adults in treatment for ‘speedball’ addiction 









Source: Public Health England Data, analysed by UK Addiction Treatment Group

The majority of people being treated for ‘speedball’ addiction are aged between 30 and 39 years old, and concerningly, over 2,000 being treated for opiate and crack cocaine are under 30 years old.

Worryingly, the report also shows that the proportion of adults successfully starting community treatment within three weeks of release was just 34% (8,050) last year, the majority of which were in the North West (1,437), the West Midlands (1,071) and Yorkshire and the Humber (1,027). 

On this, Nuno comments: ‘The UK prison system needs to change. Prison is an establishment created not only to protect the public, but with the responsibility to rehabilitate convicted criminals. But the prison system, along with the community support systems in place after release are failing in rehabilitating people. 

‘If a prisoner is released back into the community still suffering with a drug problem, there is a good chance that they will turn back to crime to fund their habit, and the whole vicious cycle starts again. 

‘Today’s report shows that only a third of prisoners are engaging with local support services after release. This is simply not good enough. We need to invest in people. This takes money and time but above all, it takes courage to accept responsibility and to change priorities and tact.’ 

Today’s report also reveals a concerning rise in the number of inmates who have died while in prison and while being treated for addiction. The number of adults who died while in contact with treatment services in a secure setting in 2015–16 was 41. This rose to 43 in 2017–18 and then again to 54 in 2018–19.


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