Argument for state-funded methadone simply doesn't add up

THE methadone programme has received a lot of criticism in recent years, and following the death of toddler Derek Doran, an investigation was ordered by the previous Labour administration, which reported last month.

Officially, methadone is referred to as a "harm reduction programme", a medication to allow heroin addicts to stabilise their drug use and dependency. However, because methadone is a medication, it is often forgotten that it is also a class "A" drug - quite legal in the hands of a doctor, pharmacist or patient, but a criminal offence in the hands of a member of the public - and potentially fatal.

An alternative view of the methadone harm reduction programme is that it is actually a "crime reduction" programme. While the street price and purity of drugs vary, in general a 10 ("tenner") bag contains around 0.1g heroin. For addicts moving to methadone, the rough equation is 100ml of methadone per gram of heroin, i.e. 100 of street drugs is being treated/substituted by around 100ml of methadone.

Given that the Scottish Executive ships in around 300,000 litres of methadone a year, this is substituting around 300 million worth of street drugs.

Stolen goods typically sell for between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of the ticket value of the stolen item. This would equate to 300,000 litres of methadone cutting between 1 billion and 1.2 billion off crime statistics.

The cost of the methadone programme is about 15 million. There are many other arguments that undermine the harm reduction argument.

There are those who have been on methadone for ten or 15 years and more. That does not strike me as effective treatment but highlights the fact that thousands are simply parked on methadone, dumped in a council estate and forgotten about.

There are also the fatalities associated with methadone. Each year, around 150 people die from a fatal overdose.

I question the merits of the state handing out fatal quantities of a lethal substance to people that have a substance misuse problem, particularly so given around 7,000 methadone patients have children.

In purely fiscal terms, by cutting 1 billion of crime statistics for a mere 15 million, the methadone programme does represent excellent value for money. But are the associated fatalities just, to coin a military term, "acceptable casualties"?

Our society is often referred to as broken these days, but I feel the methadone programme is indicates not a broken society, but a broken state.

Last month Tayside's Chief Constable John Vine called for heroin to be prescribed to drug addicts who have turned to crime to fund their habit.

Whenever there is a tragedy such as the death of Derek Doran, politicians will queue up to express their horror and outrage. There's a point when you're just not interested in hearing hollow statements anymore. Scotland wants to see some political leadership on this issue. I know I do.

• Mev Brown works with Edinburgh's homeless.

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