Calls have been made to change the way heroin addiction in Scotland is treated after it was revealed the methadone substitute given to users has been responsible for more than 4,000 hospital admissions over the last two decades.
Research by the Scottish Conservatives found there were 4,479 hospital admissions caused by methadone since records began in the mid-1990s.
Last year 222 users were admitted to hospital after overdosing on the heroin-replacement substance.
But the Scottish Government insisted that opioid substitution therapy (OST) was a treatment with a strong evidence base and was supported by experts across Europe.
Tory public health spokeswoman Annie Wells said the official statistics proved the need to find better ways to treat heroin addicts north of the Border.
The MSP has called for alternative treatments for users in Scotland, rather than “parking them” on a substance like methadone which she believes “offers no real hope of recovery”.
“Methadone is meant to help heroin addicts – but now we learn it has hospitalised thousands in recent years,” she said.
“It’s a disgrace that the system is so utterly dependent on parking vulnerable addicts on this dangerous substance when what they need is actual help.
“We need to remember that the vast majority of these people want to give up drugs altogether.
“But all they get is an SNP government which either feeds them methadone with no other alternative considered, or allows them to inject the ruinous heroin for free at a state-run facility.
“That’s unimaginative, and will only worsen Scotland’s already shocking drug problem.
“It’s time to see efforts going into changing the lives of heroin addicts for good, not making things worse for them.”
But the Scottish Government insisted methadone had an important role to play in tackling opioid addiction, pointing to a 2013 expert review that found methadone was a central component of opiate dependency treatment.
A spokeswoman said: “We are committed to reducing stigma associated with the use of methadone, and drug use more generally, and strongly encourage those in the public domain to be conscious of the impact that their criticism can have on those who benefit from such treatments.
“All medicines are prescribed based on clinical need and discussed with patients within the context of their long-term recovery. Prescriptions should be reviewed regularly to achieve the best possible health outcomes and on-going support should be provided to patients who are prescribed medicines.”