DUNDEE, the methadone capital of Scotland, last year saw a drop in prescriptions for the first time in four years.
But spending on the heroin substitute still remains more than twice the national average.
In December 2014, chemists in the city received more cash than any other council area in Scotland for providing the heroin substitute.
New figures for 2015 show that 20,387 prescriptions for methadone were administered, down from 20,957 for 2014. This was the only time that the numbers dropped in the last five years.
Spending by NHS Tayside in Dundee on the heroin substitute has dropped every year since 2011, by a total of more than £130,000, even when the number of prescriptions have increased.
In 2011, £380,614 was spent on 18,082 methadone prescriptions.
But in 2015, £249,485 was spent on 20,387 prescriptions.
A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside said this was due to the cost per unit of the drug “dropping significantly” over the past five years.
However, £1,660 was spent on the substance per 1,000 people in Dundee compared to £771 nationally.
Dr Brian Kidd, lead clinician for the Tayside Substance Misuse Service, said: “It is important to be very cautious when interpreting minor fluctuations in this kind of data as apparent changes in the number of prescriptions can simply reflect changes in the way prescriptions are dispensed.
“However, the apparent reduction in the number of prescriptions is likely to reflect a plateau created by the fact that the Tayside service has improved accessibility over the last three years. That means that in that three-year period, there were increasing numbers of new patients starting on methadone.”
The drop has been welcomed, but some say the figures tend to change regularly. Andrew Smith, 27, the main pharmacist at St Mary’s Pharmacy, advocates the use of methadone.
He said: “For some people methadone is a ‘helping hand’ to get them through a short heroin addiction, and they eventually manage to wean themselves off methadone.
“In other people it becomes a quite severe coping mechanism.
“They show no progress at all in coming off the drug, but this doesn’t mean it’s not helping them.
“Some users can be prescribed methadone for 20 years, but this allows them to have a job and to be involved in society. You can have a person try to come off it after the 20 years and they just can’t cope without it — it’s too much of a crutch.
“Addiction always has the potential for relapse — an addict has to be very strong not to be tempted.”
Dave Barrie, service manager for addiction access service Addaction, said: “We do have users who come in to see us who specifically look to go onto a methadone programme, because of opiate addiction.
“Methadone has a really mixed reputation though. Some believe it can be very helpful, others come to the centre and don’t even want to discuss it.
“Evidence tells us, though, that methadone, with support, is still extremely important in tackling opiate dependency, and a reduction in people being prescribed the drug can only be a good thing.”
Labour councillor Kevin Keenan said: “I’m hoping this is positive news for the city and any kind of rehabilitation for drug users is to be welcomed.”