Methadone bill in Lothians soars by £1m in two years

THE cost of prescribing methadone to addicts in the Lothians has soared by more than £1 million in two years, with a dose of the drug now given out in the area every three seconds.

Figures obtained by the Evening News today highlight the spiralling cost of the controversial heroin substitute at a time when there are mounting calls for its use to be scaled back.

It has been revealed that Lothian health chiefs spent a total of 3.8m dispensing the drug to addicts last year – compared with 2.8m in 2007.

At the same time, the number of individual doses of the drug given out soared to 11,000 a day. As it is mostly dispensed by chemists, this equates to around 20 doses handed out every minute – nearly double the level of five years ago.

The figures today sparked calls for a "radical rethink" of the policy but Dr Alison McCallum, NHS Lothian's director of public health and health policy, defended it.

"Methadone is an effective evidence-based option in helping people to stabilise their lives and break their addiction.

"NHS Lothian supports people with drug problems and their families by providing expert primary care and specialist addiction services. For patients who are ready to move on we run an abstinence-based programme called LEAP."

This week, a group of international experts on drug abuse argued the case for methadone to remain, saying scrapping or reducing it could lead to a rise in overdoses, crime and HIV. They said there was continuing "misrepresentation" about the effectiveness of the treatment.

However, critics have called for a zero-tolerance approach on heroin addiction and argue that methadone is a drain on public resources and does not help users beat their addiction, as only three per cent get off the drug.

City Conservative councillor Alastair Paisley said: "We need a radical rethink on methadone.

"We should really be trying to get people off it rather than feeding the habit."

Glenn Liddall, manager of Simpson House, part of the Crossreach project which helps those with drug problems, said there was more to the issue than merely the prescription of methadone.

"It is the support that comes with it which is key," he said.

"People are placed on a methadone programme but then the subsequent support isn't there.

"It is impossible to say if that rise is because we are picking up more users or there is an actual rise in those taking heroin."

'I was on it for 15 years and it didn't work'

WHEN Kane was only 12 his relationship with drugs began.

He had his first taste of the effects of tranquillisers and within two years he was addicted.

By the time he was 16 the Wester Hailes boy – now 33 – had received his first methadone prescription, prompting a journey with the green, sticky fluid that would last for 15 years.

It didn't work for him.

He told the Evening News previously: "I grew up in Wester Hailes, but to be honest it wouldn't have mattered where we lived, I think I would always have ended up involved with drugs.

"On my 16th birthday I went to the doctors, told them I was addicted to Valium and dihydrocodeine and I left with a prescription for methadone. I was on it for 15 years."

The replacement substance failed to have a lasting impact on him, and once it had "stopped shutting me down" he began to compliment it with other drugs.

It was only when he entered an NHS Lothian-run abstinence programme called LEAP that he was able to defeat his 19-year-old habit.