Calls for review of £100k-a-day methadone programme

A REVIEW should be carried out into the soaring costs of Scotland’s £36 million methadone programme, a government appointed expert group has said.

The heroin replacement should continue as a treatment for addicts but more should be done to get users drug-free. Picture: PA

The heroin replacement – which costs £100,000 a day – should continue as a treatment for addicts, it said, but more should be done to get users on the road to recovery, including better residential and community rehab programmes.

Labour has claimed many pharmacists are becoming “methadone millionaires” on the back of payments for dispensing the heroin replacement.

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In a report published yesterday, the Scottish Drugs Strategy Delivery Commission, chaired by Dr Brian Kidd, said the payments system was “complex and opaque” .

“It is recommended that steps are taken to investigate the complexities of the current pricing structures and to explore if any potential alternative new mechanisms could be developed to further reduce drug costs,” the report found.

Methadone has been at the heart of drug treatment since the 1980s and is taken by thousands of recovering addicts.

But official figures show that of the 438 drug deaths in Scotland in 2011, methadone is the most commonly implicated drug, involved in 234 cases.

Dr Kidd said the review “identified a range of areas in which progress is required”.

He added: “We have concluded that ORT [opioid replacement therapy] with methadone is an effective treatment and must remain a significant element of the treatment options available for those struggling with opiate dependency in Scotland. However, ORT must be one of a comprehensive range of treatment options in every area.”

Community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham said the government now plans to hold meetings with those working in this field, as well as politicians from Scotland’s main parties, to agree “the best way forward”.

She added: “Just as we have made great strides to cut waiting times for drug treatment, we now need to continue to improve the quality and range of the support and treatment available, and the systems in place for monitoring how well all areas are performing on this.”

David Liddell, director of addictions charity Scottish Drugs Forum, said: “It is entirely right that the review sets problem drug use and treatment in the social context of the hugely significant income and health inequalities which prevail in Scotland and which underpin so much of Scotland’s drug problem.”

He called for “a more informed level of discussion about tackling problem drug use”.

Labour deputy justice spokeswoman, Elaine Murray, said methadone is “a vital component in helping people tackle drug addiction”.

But she added: “This report identifies serious problems which the Scottish Government need to address immediately.

She said: “For chaotic addicts, it becomes yet another drug used with heroin and alcohol.”

Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw voiced concerns there was no mention of “abstinence” in any of the report’s recommendations.

“That is an unambitious conclusion to reach and does nothing to ease fears we will simply continue parking people on alternatives with no hope of them getting their lives back on track.

“A tougher approach on this matter would help everyone, from addicts and their families to the victims of the crime many of them commit to fund their habit. Many regard the Scottish Government’s rhetoric on this issue as one of defeat.”