Scottish Government Reviews its Methadone Programme

The Scottish Government’s recent review of the methadone programme concludes that methadone should continue to be prescribed as the main substitute for heroin addicts, although the way it is distributed needs to be improved. Scotland spends over £36 million pounds on the methadone substitution program, even though it was revealed last year that more people die from it than heroin.

The response from the Scottish media to the review was generally negative.  The Daily Record wrote that Scottish addicts were parked on methadone for decades and “other potential treatments were ignored.” The Record also said the “Scottish ­Government had no idea if the programme was successful and that the delivery of services varied widely across the country.

The sharpest criticism came from Professor Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre For Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University. Writing in the Sunday Times McKeganey said that Scotland drug treatment policy is a “miserable failure” and he criticised NHS Scotland for having no idea how many people, if any, have actually recovered as a result of the costly methadone programme.

“The report also acknowledges,” writes McKegany in the Sunday Times, “that there are alternatives to methadone that are rarely used. Suboxine is one, which although more costly is a much safer drug and much less likely to be associated with drug related deaths. Sadly, that drug, like residential rehabilitation, is prescribed only to a minority of addicts. Scotland’s drug treatment world, despite all the fine words and political aspirations, looks about as manoeuverable as an oil tanker, with past practice all too often eclipsing innovation and progress.”