Call to cut the methadone quick fix

ONE of Scotland's leading drug treatment experts yesterday urged ministers to withdraw methadone from addicts after a set time period as part of a radical new approach to drugs policy.

Neil McKeganey, the Professor of Drugs Misuse Research at Glasgow University, said he wanted a two-year limit set for anybody on methadone – the prescribed heroin substitute.

Prof McKeganey was speaking out as ministers prepared to launch their drugs strategy later this week.

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Fergus Ewing, the community safety minister, has already indicated a change in approach, with a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and abstinence and less on methadone.

But yesterday Prof McKeganey urged Mr Ewing to be more radical.

He said: "There is no question that methadone has a role to play in assisting addicts to become drug-free but we have far too many addicts on it for far too long, many of whom are continuing to use illegal drugs alongside their methadone," he said.

"I am not saying we should not have methadone but what I am saying is people should be on it for a modest period of time and moved on to a drug-free programme. If it's not time limited, they remain on it for far too long and I do not think we should have addicts on methadone for more than two years."

Prof McKeganey's comments will increase the pressure on the Scottish Government to adopt a tough approach to drug policy.

Mr Ewing revealed over the weekend that he intended to unveil a "new vision" for drug policy.

The minister said: "People want us all to raise our aspirations and believe that people who use drugs should recover and move on. Our focus will be on recovery."

The minister said that other services, such as housing, employment and health, would also need to be involved to help addicts rebuild their lives.

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But he warned that the "scourge of drugs" would not disappear overnight, adding: "The implementation of our vision for action to tackle drugs will take months and years to achieve."

However, Mr Ewing said: "If the government shows leadership, forges consensus and is clear about delivery, then I am confident we can make real progress in the years ahead."

It is understood that ministers accept the need for a greater emphasis on getting addicts off all drugs, including methadone, which costs the taxpayer up to 60 million a year in Scotland alone.

Prof McKeganey has been very clear that he believes that forcing addicts off methadone is the only way to achieve long-term success and he has been backed by the Conservatives, who have also urged ministers to take a firmer line on this issue.

But these views are not shared by all experts.

GP and drug researcher Roy Robertson said: "People taking illegal drugs have multiple health and social needs and are likely to remain dependent on methadone and other prescribed drugs for life. They are an ageing population. This is not good news for drugs policy and not what the government wants to hear. But policy has to take this into account."


MINISTERS will unveil the Scottish Government's drugs strategy on Thursday this week.

About 22,000 Scots are on methadone programmes, using a drug which is prescribed to them as a substitute for heroin.

Ministers want to see more of these addicts become drug-free and are likely to put more emphasis on abstinence programmes and invest more money in rehabilitation schemes.

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But one of the problems they face is that it has never been clear how much is actually spent tackling drugs because of different programmes being funded by different parts of government.

Robert Black, the Auditor General, is expected to produce a report explaining how much is spent by which departments in the near future, which will allow ministers to take better-informed decisions on overall drugs policy.