Deadlier than heroin, now methadone to be investigated
An investigation has been ordered into Scotland’s controversial methadone programme after it emerged that the heroin substitute now kills more addicts than any other drug.
Chief medical officer for Scotland Harry Burns is to lead an expert group that will look into the treatment along with other opiate replacement therapies, in collaboration with the independent Drugs Strategy Delivery Commission.
Community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham said yesterday that heroin replacement treatments must not be the only option available to users, but opposition parties said the methadone programme has been an “utter disaster”.
Recently it emerged that 275 people died from methadone use in 2011; well above the 206 deaths from heroin.
The expert group has been ordered by Ms Cunningham to examine the effectiveness of treating users with methadone and other replacements. The number of people on methadone has risen by a tenth in the past five years, from 22,224 in 2007 to 24,507 this year.
Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “The methadone programme in Scotland has been an utter disaster and now costs more lives than the drug it was supposed to help people off.
“A review of its use is long overdue but the important thing is getting people to stop taking heroin, not simply find a stop-gap.
“I hope, as a result of this, a more driven focus on abstinence-based treatment is considered, and it is important we don’t come out the other end with even more replacement therapies, which often don’t help anyone and cost the public purse millions.”
The panel will make recommendations to the Scottish Government, for consideration in Parliament.
Dr Burns said opiate-replacement therapy is “an important and complex issue”.
He said: “We know opiate-replacement therapies stabilise the lives of people seeking to address their drug addictions.
“This group brings together great expertise and its work will give us a clearer picture of how these therapies are being used across Scotland.”
Ms Cunningham insisted prescribed drug treatment such as the methadone programme has saved many thousands of lives in Scotland, but it was down to medical professionals to determine the best treatment in each individual case.
Heroin substitutes such as methadone accounted for a fifth of treatment options in 2011-12.The government’s policy, The Road to Recovery, announced in 2008, aims to ensure users are no longer dependent on any drug, including methadone. But there has been widespread criticism that addicts are left “parked” on methadone for years.
Maxie Richards, who has her own foundation treating addicts, has been a long-term critic of the methadone programme.
“Time has moved on and there are much better options now, which they’re just ignoring because they’re trapped with what they’ve decided to do,” she said.
“But they’re going to have to make changes.”