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Harm Reduction vs. Abstinence – a debate

addiction rehab abstinence vs methadone maintenance

Last night, in Edinburgh University’s Appleton Tower, Neil McKeganey and Stanton Peele faced up in a debate about the future of the UK’s harm reduction policies.

Prof McKeganey is the Director of the Centre for Drug Misuse – formerly a department within the University of Glasgow, and Stanton Peele is a ‘maverick’ campaigner from the US who is in the minority anti-abstinence camp in the US. He particularly dislikes Alcoholics Anonymous. 

It was an interesting pairing – as the two psychologists come from different ends of the spectrum, but in their respective countries they feel they are sometimes lone voices in the wilderness. 

In the end I felt the debate went to McKeganey – who was the least baffling of the two. I lost the flow of Peele’s argument quite early on in his speech. In particular, his back-up powerpoint slides presented an array of statistics – the conclusions of which were not clear. 

Furthermore McKeganey stuck to the debate’s subject of drug policy treatment and harm reduction in that context, whereas Peele confused the debate with arguments relating to alcohol and cigarettes, which threatened to turn the debate into a “what is addiction” discussion.


Colin Wilkie Jones – the new chief exec of eATA – was also at the debate in Edinburgh – following on from his visit to Castle Craig yesterday.  He later tweeted, “Thanks very much @CastleCraig for making me feel very welcome today & filling some gaps in my knowledge of the history of the sector & eATA.”

Colin is coming to the helm of eATA from the department of work and pensions.  He has his work cut out in a sector which is often described as being in crisis.  He is very open about the fact that eATA has lost its way at this time of crisis – and many members feel it is not representing their needs.  He seems determined to turn this around. 

Colin’s tip for a website to look at is:

Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | September 23, 2011