Drug addicts in Scotland are increasingly being offered prescribed substitutes rather than help to get free from drugs, it has emerged.
An investigation by The Sunday Post newspaper revealed that while record numbers of addicts are seeking help, rehabilitation units are reporting empty beds.
Critics say it is because prescribing drugs like methadone to addicts is a “cheap and easy option”.
The newspaper points to a mound of evidence that abstinence-based rehabilitation is a far more effective way of treating addicts than prescribing them replacement drugs.
Peter McCann, Chairman of the Castle Craig Hospital in Peeblesshire, which treats adult dependencies, said: “The SNP came in with wonderful intentions but they haven’t been able to get started.
“They made firm promises that residential rehabilitation would improve, yet admissions are at an all-time low.
“At Castle Craig we have empty beds and if it wasn’t for foreign patients we’d be struggling.”
The newspaper reports that only 161 patients were offered treatment at a residential rehabilitation unit in the three months to April – a 34 per cent fall on the previous year.
Meanwhile, offers of community-based support, which includes methadone prescriptions, have increased by 14 per cent.
Drugs expert Professor Neil McKeganey said that while methadone was effective for reducing the frequency of heroin use, residential rehabilitation was the best way of getting people off the drug.
But, he said: “You’d be surprised at how resistant the civil servants I’ve spoken to are to the idea of rehab.
“There’s a feeling they might as well stick with methadone because it’s cheaper.”
It is estimated that there are 52,000 heroin users in Scotland, with thousands more addicted to cocaine, amphetamines and painkillers.
The annual cost to Scotland’s economy of problems related to drug misuse has been put at £2.6 billion.