Methadone ‘stranding’ drug users, insist critics

Roseanna Cunningham backed the government's approach
Roseanna Cunningham backed the government's approach
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THE USE of the heroin substitute methadone to help addicts kick their habit has come under attack with a warning that many drug users are being left “stranded in the system”.

Methadone was linked to almost half of Scotland’s 584 drugs deaths last year and is now the country’s most deadly drug. 
Heroin and morphine accounted for a third of deaths.

Labour insist that the Scottish Government’s drugs strategy is unravelling. But community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham defended the “Road to Recovery” approach which backs a range of treatments.

Ms Cunningham told MSPs at Holyrood yesterday: “Does methadone reduce drug-related deaths, blood-borne viruses and crime? We know it does. Does it stabilise lives? Yes, it does.

“But methadone is only one of a number of treatment options available. We are clear it can be effective but only as a component in a package of care, treatment and recovery.”

Of the 19,000 drug treatments started in 2011-12, less than one-fifth were for prescribed drugs including methadone, which is given to heroin addicts to help them off the harder drug.

“There is an assumption, a tendency, to assume that everybody is on methadone, and that simply is not true,” Ms Cunningham added.

The 584 recorded drug deaths in Scotland last year was up 99 on the previous year and a 
76 per cent increase on 2001.

Labour MSP Jenny Marra said the government’s drug strategy was unravelling. The total number of drug-related deaths increased by one-fifth on the previous year, she said.

“While we recognise the advantages that methadone brings as one part of a comprehensive drugs strategy, we need to know that public money is being spent to do more than simply strand addicts in the system. That won’t let all of them recover,” she said.

Figures obtained by Labour show the cost to the taxpayer of funding methadone treatment is £36 million a year.

Of that, locally negotiated rates create different costs across Scotland.

“We don’t believe this is fair, and we don’t believe the Scottish people do, either,” she said.

Former Tory leader Annabel Goldie called for more information about the extent of methadone prescribing and its effectiveness.

“We don’t know how many patients are on methadone and we don’t know how many 
patients have come off methadone or had their prescriptions reduced,” she said.

“It is very difficult to make any objective assessment of the range of options available, as is implicit within the strategy, if we do not have that data.”

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said politicians should not be deciding which treatments “can or cannot be used” and the matter should be left to health professionals.

“They’ve got the evidence, they’ve got the know-how,” Mr Rennie said. “They are the best people to make the decisions to help these people out of these circumstances.

“Methadone is part of the solution and not part of the problem. We need to be very careful when we demonise families and we demonise the methadone programme.”