The Information and Statistics Division (ISD) of the Scottish Government has reported that the cost of Scotland’s methadone programme has risen by 25% in five years. Over £15M was spent on the programme in 2009/10
The ISD’s report, Drug Misuse Statistics Scotland 2010, also shows that methadone prescribing rates rose by 9% in the same period, despite a new strategy of concentrating on recovery from addiction rather than maintenance.
The Scottish Government believes that the increase in the amount of money spent on the methadone programme is to increased costs rather than a corresponding rise in the number of users.
But the government doesn’t actually count the number of methadone users.
Statisticians only collate the number of prescriptions issued – 510,063 in 2009/10. This represents about 98 per 1,000 population, an increase from 90 per 1,000 population in 2005/06.
There has long been a debate between proponents of methadone as a substitute for hard drugs like heroin, a form of harm reduction, and those who believe that abstinence is the only approach to tackling addiction.
The proponents of methadone argue that its use takes drug users out of the grip of those who sell illegal drugs and reduces the crime that so often pays for drug habits. But its opponents argue that one addiction is being exchanged for another, and that the addict does not benefit in the long term.
Methadone is supposed to be a step along the road from addiction to recovery. But many drug addicts seem to be stuck, unable to move on. Estimates of the number of users vary from 22,000 to 28,000 and there is little evidence of anything other than a maintenance regime.
Addiction is a complex subject. But perhaps more diversity in the treatment of heroin users would see better results. Methadone may be one part of the solution, but clearly it is not the only answer.