A leading drugs expert has warned that Scotland’s controversial methadone programme is “out of control”.
Professor Neil McKeganey was responding to data obtained by BBC Scotland, which revealed that pharmacists were paid £17.8 million for dispensing close to half a million doses of the heroin-substitute last year.
The Government claims fewer people in Scotland are taking drugs, but Prof McKeganey criticised the lack of data available to measure the impact of the scheme.
He said: “We still don’t know how many addicts are on the methadone programme, what progress they’re making, and with what frequency they are managing to come off methadone.
“Successive inquiries have shown that the programme is in a sense out of control; it just sits there, delivering more methadone to more addicts, year in year out, with very little sense of the progress those individuals are making towards their recovery.”
In 2013, pharmacies dispensed 22,980 more doses of methadone than last year, and fees paid to pharmacies for dispensing the drug have decreased over a four-year period.
But figures obtained from National Services Scotland showed that the amount dispensed has increased in over a third of local authorities over the last two years.
Prof McKeganey said: “The aspiration contained within the government’s ‘Road to Recovery’ drug strategy explicitly said that the goal of treatment must be to enable people to become drug-free rather than remain on long-term methadone.
“These figures show you that we are not achieving that goal – we are not witnessing large numbers of people coming off the methadone programme.”
He called for addicts to receive a two-year reassessment, so that if methadone does not work they have the option of entering a drug-free residential home.
He added: “That seemed preferable to me than leaving people on a methadone prescription for years – and then the worry is that you’ve turned your heroin addicts into methadone addicts.”
Last year, a leading sociologist described methadone treatment for heroin users as a “disaster” because it “encourages the idea that people on heroin have an illness”.