Scots drugs strategy ‘will fail without clear targets’

Scotland’s ambitious new drugs strategy will fail without clear targets to make sure addicts are really recovering, ministers have been warned.

Last May the Scottish Government announced a policy shift towards helping Scotland’s 52,000 addicts to become free from drugs, rather than prescribing substitutes like methadone.

However, questions were raised over the strategy in November when figures revealed a 20 per cent increase in spending on methadone prescriptions.

Now drug misuse expert Professor Neil McKeganey has warned that the strategy lacks the specific benchmarks that are needed to make sure it is on track.

Without such targets, the funding currently channelled into methadone prescriptions will not be made available for abstinence-based rehabilitation, he warned.

He said: “You would have to be enormously optimistic to believe with an absence of targets you could bring about the order of change in the drugs strategy that is outlined.

“At the minimum, there needs to be a much clearer setting-out of the benchmarks to ensure the strategy is influencing things on the ground.

“Unless ministers say what order of reduction in methadone, whether it’s 10 per cent year or 20 per cent they want to see – something which would then release funds for other services – then it is unlikely they will achieve what is a major new direction in drugs policy, away from the McConnell years”.

Former Labour First Minister Jack McConnell has been blamed for allowing methadone prescription to spiral during his leadership, with 2007 figures showing a 35 per cent increase in the practice over five years.

In England, this so-called ‘harm reduction’ approach absorbs half of the Government’s £500 million drugs budget, yet only three per cent of the addicts receiving any kind of treatment were discharged drug-free in 2007/08.

By contrast, rehabilitation centres have had high levels of success in helping addicts to become free from dependency altogether.

Although prescribing methadone is cheaper for governments in the short-term, Scottish officials recently said that turning to rehabilitation programmes could save Scotland almost £900 million over three years.

The minister responsible for the new strategy, Fergus Ewing, said addicts should have a wide range of treatment options available to them.

A Government spokesman said: “We want recovery to be the aim of all drug treatment and rehabilitation services.

“We need a wider range of services in place than there has been in the past. We should not be over-reliant on any one form of treatment over another.”

Related Resources