The Treatment of Drug Addiction: The Individual Caught between Public Welfare and Private Capitalism

By Laursen, Lau; Storgaard, Anette | Contemporary Drug Problems, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

The Treatment of Drug Addiction: The Individual Caught between Public Welfare and Private Capitalism


Laursen, Lau, Storgaard, Anette, Contemporary Drug Problems


This article analyzes and discusses the important changes in the Danish drug-treatment sector that took place from the middle of the 1990s. The background is a general review of the drug situation put forward by the Danish government in 1994, which changed the priority between control and treatment efforts. From 1995-1996 treatment of drug addiction was given more money and more awareness from society. One of the most interesting changes was an acceptance of the use of private treatment centers as a tolerated part of the treatment system. Since 1997 the Danish counties, as responsible authorities for drug treatment, have contracted out most of their residential treatment. The private treatment institutions have supplementary financial motives besides helping and offering treatment. This has raised new problems for the individual drug user and society as to the quality and effects of drug treatment.

The Danish treatment system has traditionally been public. Until a few years ago, the public system was financed and run by the counties themselves, or by private foundations with so-called operating agreements with a county. The social treatment efforts were, and still are, two-stringed to some extent, which means there is a residential treatment sector and an ambulatory sector providing various social services and offers of treatment for individuals with abuse problems.

This model, which is first sketched in broad outline here, has been changed in many ways since the last general review of the drugs situation put forward by the Danish government in May 1994. The central message in that review was the wish to give higher priority to the treatment effort, which had been given lower priority during the 1980s at the cost of the control policy apparatus. This increase in priority led to a number of changes in the social legislation and practices concerning the treatment of drug abuse in 1995-96. One of the most interesting changes was an acceptance of the use of private treatment centers, which thereby became an accepted part of the treatment system. In section 1, below, these changes are described in more detail.

This development is one of the most concise features of social policy in Denmark in the 1990s. At the same time, the socio-political discourse has been concentrated on the interplay and roles of social responsibility of the welfare state and the so-called "voluntary social work," a broad designation for all non-governmental social services and programs. These more specialized services are directed toward citizens who have difficulties feeling at home in the postmodern information society with all its demands and social mechanisms and therefore are at risk of being marginalized.

Citizens with drug misuse as a central part of their daily lives are one of the most visible and heavy groups among the socially marginalized population. A big part of voluntary social work in relation to this group therefore takes place in a multifaceted way as to structure, content and financing. One can point at a broad spectrum of initiatives that reaches from locally anchored services on the grassroots level (e.g., a shelter for citizens with social problems in a city district) to big nationwide organizations with many different services on different levels (e.g., national treatment institutions for alcoholics). The new private treatment institutions for drug addicts that grew up from the middle of the 1990s in Denmark can be placed between these two poles. By this they fit very well into the classification of nonprofit, voluntary social work as it is defined in the literature.

Smith & Lipsky (1993) distinguish among three types of nonprofit service agencies. The first type is the traditional social service agency, like the nationwide agency for treatment of alcoholics mentioned above. The second type is "the agency founded within the last twenty years, directly in response to the availability of government funds for job training, mental health, and other contemporary services.

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The Treatment of Drug Addiction: The Individual Caught between Public Welfare and Private Capitalism
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