‘It’s ridiculous that addicts should 
be taking methadone indefinitely’

An estimated 22,000 Scots are receiving prescription methadone. Picture: TSPL
An estimated 22,000 Scots are receiving prescription methadone. Picture: TSPL
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SCOTTISH ministers are facing growing calls to reduce Scotland’s £32 million methadone habit, and put more addicts on abstinence programmes instead.

It comes just days after new figures revealed the prescription medication was present in 275 out of 584 drug-related deaths in 2011 – more than heroin.

An estimated 22,000 Scots are receiving prescription methadone, with many “parked” on the drug for decades.

Many more buy it on the black market and use it with other drugs to achieve their hit.

Boots has received more than £20m of public money over six years for prescribing methadone.

Critics have urged the Scottish Government to put more resources into programmes aimed at helping addicts get clean, such as the Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (Leap).

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, a former director-general of the Scottish Crimes and Drugs Enforcement Agency, said: “The idea that someone should be ‘maintained’ on methadone without time limit or cost limitation is ridiculous.

“Our professionals should be tasked with the role of making patients well again.”

Savings made by reducing methadone provision could be put into support services that get addicts through the most difficult periods after giving up, say critics.

“Of course, there should be greater use of abstinence,” said Mr Pearson. “If these people are parents or members of families, that is what their families want for them, particularly where the prison service is concerned. The idea you can serve an entire sentence on methadone seems illogical.”

The Scottish Conservatives also believe more abstinence programmes should be introduced.

Jackson Carlaw, Tory health spokesman, added: “Throwing money at methadone programmes is not going to make the problem go away, as we repeatedly see from official figures.

“We need to explore more abstinence-based rehabilitation programmes. As it stands, we are simply feeding the problem and making it worse.”

NHS Lothian’s Leap, which helps both alcoholics and drug addicts, is a 12-week programme where addicts receive support from a range of services in return for abstinence.

Leap’s success rate has seen more than half of its 519 clients since 2007 “graduating” from the programme.

Dr David McCartney, clinical head of Leap, said: “The majority of people leave treatment and choose the long-term recovery path. We link our service users with existing recovery communities like Narcotics Anonymous which provide ongoing support.

“At Leap, we see the shift from active addiction to recovery every single day. Recovery is not only a possibility but a tangible reality for those in active addiction who are willing to work hard to find a healthier life.”

However, drugs workers and experts have defended methadone in the wake of recent criticism, and believe it must continue to play a role in supporting addicts.