The true cost of Scotland’s drug habit has been set out by a leading academic, who says a single addict sets the country back more than £60,000 a year.
Professor Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at the University of Glasgow, has criticised Scottish Government policy and said the nation is “paying a massive price” for its drugs problem. Scotland has some 55,000 addicts, so the annual bill in health care, criminal activity, drug driving and other social costs comes to almost £3.5 billion.
Writing in today’s Scotsman, Prof McKeganey argues Scottish society has grown too accepting of all forms of drug abuse and needs instead to preach a doctrine of abstinence. He questions the Scottish Government’s reliance on methadone as a substitute for heroin abusers and argues more effort is required to get addicts off drugs through abstinence.
“At the moment, we have about 22,000 addicts on methadone in Scotland,” he says. “When Scottish ministers are asked whether they have any plans for reducing that number, the typical answer is to say that prescribing methadone is the responsibility of individual doctors. “Our political leaders, surrounded by those who counsel them on the benefits of methadone, find themselves passing responsibility for our national methadone programme on to the shoulders of those who are prescribing the drug in the first place. This situation is going to get worse.”
Prof McKeganey says Scotland’s drug problem is “virtually without equal anywhere in Europe” and that concern over “legal high” mephedrone, a substance sold as plant food which has become popular as a recreational drug and has been linked to a number of deaths, is just another symptom of the “culture of addiction”.
“What… should we make of a situation in Scotland where young people are prepared to consume plant food to obtain a desired high?” he says.
The Centre for Drug Misuse Research has estimated each problem drug user costs £60,703 a year, while a recreational drug user costs the state only £134. The costs were calculated by considering the addict’s actions in terms of health, work, driving, crime and other social consequences, such as children in care and even addicts’ deaths.
In 2007, for example, problem drug users made 45,034 visits to accident and emergency departments at a total cost of £9,804,388, while the annual shoplifting bill is £50,611,921.
Prof McKeganey believes that key to tackling Scotland’s drug problem lies in a greater focus on abstinence. “If we are going to change the culture of acceptance around drugs, we need to do something that is almost beyond comprehension – we need to normalise abstinence,” he says.
The growing culture of middle-class drug use, where users argue it is a just reward for personal success, must he tackled, he argues, and there should be more visits to schools by drug addicts and their families to highlight the consequences of addiction.
Last night, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Drugs Forum defended the use of methadone for drug addicts and the necessity for support systems to help drug addicts, even during times of financial hardship. “Methadone – along with psycho-social support to supplement the pharmaceutical prescription – has an important part to play in helping many people stabilise chaotic drug use, but other approaches must be available, including abstinence-based treatment, for people who want them and who could benefit from them,” she said. “What matters most is having a range of high-quality and readily accessible treatment which best meets the needs of each individual at each stage of their journey away from harmful drug use.”
Tim Richley, of offenders’ charity Sacro, supported Prof McKeganey’s long-term goal, but said it would require gradual change. “I do understand the argument he is making and I would come down on the side of total abstinence as a good goal that we are trying to achieve, but other factors can help,” he said. “If they were to ditch methadone overnight, there would be a huge rise in criminal activity as addicts seek the money to buy heroin.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it had invested a record £28.6 million in drug treatment and services. He went on: “It is for individual clinicians to decide on the most appropriate medical treatment for any person, taking into account their lifestyle and what stage they are on the road to recovery.
“The Scottish Government’s new drugs strategy offers a blueprint for all our drug treatment and rehabilitation services based on the principle of recovery, not extending addiction, tailored to the personal needs of individuals.”
Source: www.scotsman.com 29th March 2010