Pubdate: Mon, 26 May 2008
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2008 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Hamish Macdonell
Bookmark: (Methadone)


ONE of Scotland's leading drug treatment experts yesterday urged
ministers to withdraw methadone from addicts after a set time period
as part of a radical new approach to drugs policy.

Neil McKeganey, the Professor of Drugs Misuse Research at Glasgow
University, said he wanted a two-year limit set for anybody on
methadone - the prescribed heroin substitute.

Prof McKeganey was speaking out as ministers prepared to launch their
drugs strategy later this week.

Fergus Ewing, the community safety minister, has already indicated a
change in approach, with a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and
abstinence and less on methadone.

But yesterday Prof McKeganey urged Mr Ewing to be more

He said: "There is no question that methadone has a role to play in
assisting addicts to become drug-free but we have far too many addicts
on it for far too long, many of whom are continuing to use illegal
drugs alongside their methadone," he said.

"I am not saying we should not have methadone but what I am saying is
people should be on it for a modest period of time and moved on to a
drug-free programme. If it's not time limited, they remain on it for
far too long and I do not think we should have addicts on methadone
for more than two years."

Prof McKeganey's comments will increase the pressure on the Scottish
Government to adopt a tough approach to drug policy.

Mr Ewing revealed over the weekend that he intended to unveil a "new
vision" for drug policy.

The minister said: "People want us all to raise our aspirations and
believe that people who use drugs should recover and move on. Our
focus will be on recovery."

The minister said that other services, such as housing, employment and
health, would also need to be involved to help addicts rebuild their

But he warned that the "scourge of drugs" would not disappear
overnight, adding: "The implementation of our vision for action to
tackle drugs will take months and years to achieve."

However, Mr Ewing said: "If the government shows leadership, forges
consensus and is clear about delivery, then I am confident we can make
real progress in the years ahead."

It is understood that ministers accept the need for a greater emphasis
on getting addicts off all drugs, including methadone, which costs the
taxpayer up to UKP60 million a year in Scotland alone.

Prof McKeganey has been very clear that he believes that forcing
addicts off methadone is the only way to achieve long-term success and
he has been backed by the Conservatives, who have also urged ministers
to take a firmer line on this issue.

But these views are not shared by all experts.

GP and drug researcher Roy Robertson said: "People taking illegal
drugs have multiple health and social needs and are likely to remain
dependent on methadone and other prescribed drugs for life. They are
an ageing population. This is not good news for drugs policy and not
what the government wants to hear. But policy has to take this into


MINISTERS will unveil the Scottish Government's drugs strategy on
Thursday this week.

About 22,000 Scots are on methadone programmes, using a drug which is
prescribed to them as a substitute for heroin.

Ministers want to see more of these addicts become drug-free and are
likely to put more emphasis on abstinence programmes and invest more
money in rehabilitation schemes.

But one of the problems they face is that it has never been clear how
much is actually spent tackling drugs because of different programmes
being funded by different parts of government.

Robert Black, the Auditor General, is expected to produce a report
explaining how much is spent by which departments in the near future,
which will allow ministers to take better-informed decisions on
overall drugs policy.
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