Published: 00:01, 11 April 2014
The best way for people in Kent to get over a legal high addiction is to have them living together in one big house, according to an American professor.
The Oxford House model is a system used in the United States which involves addicts and former addicts monitoring one another, to ensure they abstain from their substance misuse.
They all pay an equal amount of rent and this will only change if they break the rule: giving in to their addiction. If they do, they will be thrown out by their fellow residents.
Leonard Jason is based at DePaul University in Chigaco, Illinois where he has been studying the approach for 22 years.
He said: “I think these houses really help people who are dealing with addictions.
"Certainly there are individuals who have legal highs as well as others who probably need a place of fellowship where they can get support for the addiction problem they have.
“It’s a very economical way of helping a lot of people who don’t have a place to stay in their recovery.”
He added: “Think about someone that has a substance misuse problem, would you rather have them around someone who is employed, who are not taking alcohol or drugs, who are not involved in criminal activities?
“That’s the kind of peer group you want everybody to be surrounding themselves in as opposed to sitting in a rented house by themselves where their best friend is a television set.”
It is believed there are around 1,600 Oxford Houses in America which involve about 10,000 people who are hoping to reform themselves from alcohol and drug misuse, including legal highs.
In the UK there is one. It was first opened in July 2011 in Redcar, Cleveland, North Yorkshire by Tony Brown who stands as the founder and director.
Mr Brown said: “Oxford House works alongside any recovery system that includes abstinence and community spirit. All Oxford House residents tend to have been involved in several addiction modalities and failed.”
While the people living in the property are recovering from more common addictions such as alcohol and illegal drugs, Mr Brown admits “most addicts and alcoholics have tried legal highs.”
Despite the move, Professor Jason believes it is time the recovery model is used in the South East, in particular places like Kent.
He said: “The group of people can ultimately become change agents for the whole county because as they begin to change themselves, they begin to give back and they begin to think about younger people so they don’t get themselves involved in these types of problems in the future as well.”
Mr Brown also feels it would be a positive move for the county.
He said: “It would help develop role models and help those who are just starting out with legal highs and to hear where legal highs can lead to.
“Oxford House is run as a democracy along the lines of a franchise so we are willing to help others establish Oxford Houses in their own areas.”
The suggestion follows claims from legal highs charity, the Angelus Foundation, that Kent has more shops selling legal highs than any other county in the UK.
Kent has also seen a number of tragedies involving the substances, including at least one death.
While the Oxford House idea rejects top-down treatment approaches another aim is to help save the healthcare system time and money.
Professor Jason believes it could save the UK’s healthcare system millions of pounds.
He said: “Individuals who are often dealing with substance abuse problems often cost our nation and your nation a very high amount of money.
“With these individuals, if they’re basically becoming productive citizens like having a job and having commitments to their families, this will ultimately save our society high amounts of money that are now spent on the healthcare system.
“In the United States, our projection is that it’s hundreds of millions of dollars that it could save and actually has saved our healthcare system at this point.
"So, in terms of the parallel it certainly is going to be very comparable in your country.”
The claims are in light of a government review under way which could lead to sweeping changes to the UK’s drugs laws.
It was launched by Home Office Minister Norman Baker last December.
The review involves drug experts analysing a range of arguments; legislation used in other countries and also the KM Group’s legal highs campaign, which was handed over to Mr Baker last month.
“It’s a very economical way of helping a lot of people who don’t have a place to stay in their recovery” - Leonard Jason
“If they really considered Oxford Houses as one type of place where people can get a sense of community, a sense of fellowship, a sense of individuals who are rooting for them to stay outside of substance misuse.Mr Jason says: “I do think this [the Oxford House model] is a very important part of the policy.
"That group of people can then ultimately become change agents.”
It is not yet known whether the government are considering Oxford House model in the review.
When previously asked about the details of the analysis last month, Mr Baker said “it is in the hands of the experts.”
A conclusion is due to be delivered by the summer.
Mr Brown is now working towards opening a female only Oxford House elsewhere in the UK.