Walking proof that methadone 'is failing' after 20 years on treatment

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ONE of Scotland's leading experts on drugs misuse launched a fresh attack on the nation's methadone programme yesterday after a drug addict finally had his free supply cut off – after almost 20 years.

Martin Ramsay, who has cost the taxpayer an estimated 20,000 for his fixes of the heroin substitute, had his methadone prescription withdrawn after failing a drug test. The 34-year-old, from Perth, has been receiving the state-funded drug ever day since the age of 16.

Ramsay, who was placed on probation for shoplifting, had previously told a court he was too anxious to perform community service.

Professor Neil McKeganey, director the Centre for Drugs Misuse Research at Glasgow University, said the case exposed the folly of a programme that is thought to support some 22,000 addicts in Scotland.

He called for a full review of the treatment of heroin addicts and methadone programmes, saying the case in Perth proved it was long overdue. He warned addicts should have a maximum of just two years of methadone.

Prof McKeganey has previously condemned the Scottish Government for failing to try to reduce the estimated 50 million cost of supplying methadone to heroin addicts.

Ramsay, of Dunkeld Road, Perth, provoked fury from Sheriff Robert McCreadie last October when it was revealed he had been given a three-month sick note by his doctor. He had been ordered to carry out 80 hours unpaid work at an earlier hearing.

Ramsay told Perth Sheriff Court yesterday that he had begun carrying out the community service, albeit at a slower than normal pace.

Sheriff McCreadie told him: "What you face is a lifetime of jail and a lifetime of disaster. It was your fault to think you could go on with the methadone forever.

"You don't get something for nothing forever, if you don't perform yourself. You should be living without chemical addiction. You need to perform better."

Ramsay – who once committed 50 offences in a single year – was put on methadone while he was a teenager in a bid to get him off heroin.

But he has continued to take the medication daily, despite admitting he has never given up heroin.

Prof McKeganey said: "Cases such as these, involving people who have been on methadone for such a long period of time, demonstrate the need for serious questions to be asked about what possible benefit the methadone programme has done for them.

"This is by no means an isolated case and it is clear that the system itself is addicted to supplying methadone to heroin addicts.

"There needs to be a full review so we know exactly how many people are on methadone programmes and how many have come off them.

"Two years is the maximum anyone should be on a programme. After that there needs to be an intensive review of their treatment programme."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "It is for individual clinicians to decide on the most appropriate medical treatment for any person, taking into account their lifestyle and what stage they are at on the road to recovery.

"Inevitably, for some recovery will take longer than for others."

The spokesman added: "The Scottish Government's new drugs strategy offers a blueprint for all our drug treatment and rehabilitation services based on the principle of recovery, not extending addiction, tailored to the personal needs of individuals."

IN NUMBERS

50 million

Estimated cost of supplying methadone to addicts every year

52,000

Number of "problem" drug users in Scotland

11%

Number of fathers estimated to be abusing drugs in Scotland

2.6 billion

Annual cost to the Scottish economy of the drug problem

35%

Rise in number of methadone prescriptions issued in Scotland in five years

500,000

Prescriptions issued annually

1 in 3

Registered heroin addicts in Scotland is also on a methadone programme

1937

Year the synthetic opiate was developed in Germany