DRUG ADDICTS can get help faster than ever in Huddersfield - and it has enabled many of them to kick the habit.

Waiting times for substance misuse treatment have been dramatically cut in Kirklees.

It now takes about two weeks to access medication, counselling, relaxation therapies and health and housing advice.

This compares to almost four weeks last year and 13 weeks three years ago.

"This is a significant improvement and the benefits are being felt at the sharp end," said drugs worker Pete Hoey.

"People are getting treatment quicker and are staying in it for longer," said Mr Hoey, a member of the Kirklees Drug Action Team, which is made up of council representatives, the police and help groups.

"Families and carers of substance misusers are reporting that loved ones they thought would never escape the drug scene are beginning to do well and sort themselves out," he added

The improvements are due to several major changes in the last two years.

These include following national clinical guidelines on prescribing methadone and prescribing more effective doses.

Mr Hoey said: "In the past, people were being given lower doses and felt pressured to reduce their methadone before they were ready. Their cravings weren't adequately suppressed and so they would go into withdrawal and go back to using street drugs.

"This resulted in a high service turnover and drop out rate.

"National guidelines now recommend higher doses as being more effective.

"Lifeline Kirklees has been proactive in changing its approach," added Mr Hoey.

Local drugs service Lifeline Kirklees also began consulting substance misusers on how to improve waiting times.

Staff now work more flexibly and share tasks and contact people by telephone rather than letters.

The launch of Way Ahead in May 2004, one of the services run by Lifeline Kirklees, which has an open access drop-in clinic and conducts an assessment of patients' health and housing needs, has also made the system more efficient.

Way Ahead has helped more than 1,000 adults. Drug Sense - an off-shoot of Lifeline aimed at youngsters - has supported 160 people. In addition, more than 2,000 young people at risk of getting involved in drugs misuse have received some prevention work.

Bridget Hughes, the manager of Lifeline Kirklees, said: "The benefits have been enormous. We've able to treat more people and as a result of working in partnership with service users, we are even more effective."

Her organisation delivers services that aim to reduce the harm caused by substance use to individuals, families and communities.

* Lifeline Kirklees runs a 24-hour telephone advice service for substance misusers and their families. The number is 01484 353333.