Pubdate: Thu, 28 Mar 2002
Source: Herald, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 The Herald
Author: Graeme Smith


THE number of drug addicts using methadone in Grampian has almost 
quadrupled in the past four years, prompting an MSP to question the success 
of its use.

The number of dispensed items of methadone rose from about 70,000 in 
1996-97 to more than 270,000 in 2000-01 - twice the national increase. The 
figure emerged following a parliamentary question by Richard Lochhead, 
North-East SNP MSP, to Malcolm Chisholm, the health minister.

One leading drugs worker said the increase was "absolutely no surprise at 
all" and reinforced the view of her agency that the methadone programme was 
not working. However, Grampian Health Board strenuously denied that claim.

Mr Lochhead called yesterday for the government to look again at the 
increasing use of metha-done as a heroin substitute. "These are shocking 
figures for Grampian, with the amount of methadone dispensed quadrupling 
over four years. We really have to stop and ask where this is going," he said.

"The pressure on drug services is such that methadone is often the easy 
answer, but that can just shift people's addiction. What we really need is 
to get people clear of their addiction rather than simply moving it from an 
illegal, to a prescription drug on what can seem to be an indefinite period."

Janice Jess, co-ordinator of the Grampian Addiction Problems Service 
(Gaps), said: "Members of our organisation have been derided when we talked 
about the scale of the problem in Grampian and now there is clear evidence 
what we have been saying is true.

"Methadone is obviously not the answer - if it was the figures would be 
declining. This is a sign the methadone programme is failing. Methadone is 
not helping people become drug free - they are on a prescription drug 
rather than a street drug and in most cases which Gaps encounters they are 
on both."

However, Graham Cronkshaw, drugs policy and strategy manager for NHS 
Grampian, said the rising figures were a sign of success and an increase to 
that level had been anticipated. He said methadone was not the only option 
but the main option in line with national policy, and from 300 people in 
the mid 1990s they were now treating around 1000.

"Some people need metha-done for six or nine months while others may need 
it for 10 years. There is no quick answer, no magic pill. It gets people 
off street heroin and injecting and many stop crime as well. It has no 
effect on cocaine or cannabis use."

He said the vast majority on these programmes became heroin free, not 
necessarily drug free. "Methadone is only there to get them off heroin - it 
doesn't affect their appetite for cocaine or cannabis."
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