Expert voices concern on use of methadone

ROBBIE DINWOODIE, Chief Scottish Political Correspondent

A LEADING addiction expert last night said the Scottish Executive was relying too heavily on methadone to combat heroin use. Professor Neil McKeganey, of Glasgow University, was speaking after the Tories highlighted official statistics showing that prescription of the heroin substitute rose by 17% in two years.

Bill Aitken, the Glasgow MSP, accused ministers of “consigning more and more addicts to swim in a sea of methadone dependency”, with 19,000 now dependent on it.

Professor McKeganey said there was no doubt that methadone could be a useful tool in tackling heroin addiction over fixed periods, but its indefinite use was causing experts widespread concern. An executive spokesman said: “The most effective treatment will always depend on the circumstances of the individual addict – there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.”

But the professor said: “The executive is right to say no one treatment is the answer, but this sits oddly with the fact that methadone appears to have become the first choice and its use is lasting many years. That is a genuine concern.”

Professor McKeganey said research last year, involving 1000 users, showed that overwhelmingly they wanted to get off drugs, and this posed the legitimate question of whether methadone was a route to abstention or merely a tool in stabilising their habit. Figures released by the Conservatives show that in 2002, an estimated 16,401 addicts were being prescribed metha-done. By 2004, that figure had risen to 19,227, with the cost to the taxpayer, from April 2003 to April 2004, over £11.6m.

Greater Glasgow NHS board area has the highest number of individuals being prescribed methadone, with an estimated 6623 addicts receiving the treatment in 2004.

Mr Aitken said: “Methadone is an addictive substance that is a substitute for heroin, not a cure. As a country, we are consigning more and more addicts to swim in a sea of methadone dependency – a publicly-funded drug action programme.”

Source: BBC Report August 2005

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