Pubdate: Sat, 18 Sep 1999
Source: Irish Times (Ireland)
Copyright: 1999 The Irish Times
Contact:  Letters to Editor, The Irish Times, 11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2,
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Eithne Donnellan


The Eastern Health Board yesterday defended its use of methadone in the
treatment of drug addicts after a survey showed it was a factor in many
Dublin deaths linked to drugs.

An analysis of the records of the Dublin City Coroner's Court for 1998
showed 108 deaths were related to drugs or alcohol, and methadone was
implicated in 53 per cent of these.

Heroin was implicated in 51 per cent of deaths and tranquillisers in 69 per

Mr Ray Byrne, who carried out the research in pursuit of a primary degree
in social care, concluded that people who took methadone in Dublin in 1998
were at least twice as likely to have methadone implicated in their deaths
as those who took heroin would have heroin implicated in their deaths.

Commenting on the study, a public health specialist with the EHB, Dr Joe
Barry, pointed out that almost all drug-related deaths in Dublin in which
methadone was implicated in 1998 took place before the introduction of new
methadone-prescribing protocols.

He said changes in the Misuse of Drugs Act which were introduced by the
Government last October had resulted in a more tightly controlled system
for prescribing methadone and prevented methadone leaking on to the streets.

"Before the implementation of the new legislation there were no limits on
the number of patients for whom a doctor could prescribe methadone and it
would have been possible for patients to get methadone from more than one
doctor," Dr Barry admitted.

He said it was probable that many persons who had methadone in their bodies
at the time of death last year had obtained the methadone illicitly and
before the new procedures were put in place.

In addition, he said, the coroner's office had agreed to the health board
carrying out a more detailed epidemiological analysis of drug-related deaths.

Meanwhile at the opening of a satellite treatment clinic for addicts on the
North Circular Road, Dublin, the EHB chief executive officer, Mr Pat
McLoughlin, stressed that while drug-free programmes were invaluable,
methadone treatment remained an integral part of the board's armoury in the
fight against drugs.

"Drug-free programmes provide a new life for those who successfully
complete them, but unfortunately not everybody is in a position to do this
and for these clients methadone treatment must be available.

"A weight of international literature now supports methadone treatment as
the treatment of choice for the vast majority of opiate-addicted people.
Methadone is the most widely studied, evaluated and supported form of
treatment for drug misuse," he said.
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