Pubdate: 13 March 1999
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Daniel McGrory


On the stairwell of his tenement flat, 15-year-old Mark gulps back a
mouthful of methadone and winces. The drug was prescribed to a heroin
addict who lives three doors away on the same housing estate in
Glasgow. The addict sold it to the boy for UKP2.

Mark licks his lips to get rid of the taste of the bitter, green
liquid and says: "Its easier to buy methadone around here than a pint
of milk."

The medical experts insist that methadone is helping to curb the worst
excesses of many of Glasgow's estimated 12,000 intraveneous drug
users. Critics blame the easy access for contributing to 21 drug
deaths in Strathclyde since the start of the year and say that the
treatment is, in effect, a state-sponsored drugs plague. Although
methadone treatment - the "chemical cosh" - allows the addict to live
a more stable life, cutting reliance on crime to feed a habit and
bringing him into contact with health professionals, the downside is
that large amounts go to a thriving black market as people are
overprescribed and sell the surplus. Britain's heroin capital is now
in the throes of a debate about whether the supposed cure is actually
making the problem worse.

David Bryce, a drug-treatment campaigner who was an adviser on the
film Trainspotting, said: "GPs are the biggest drug dealers in
Glasgow. You don't treat an addict by giving him a free drug that is
as hard to kick as heroin."

Two streets away from where Mark and two friends are sharing a plastic
bottle of methadone in Cranhill, Alan Harper, 13, became Britain's
youngest heroin victim last year. Alan had asked his mother if he
could go to her partner's flat at 2am to watch a video.

His stepfather, a convicted drug dealer, was in the flat when the boy
took three times as much heroin as would kill an adult. When the
police found him lying on the floor, his stepfather's collection of
tarantulas and scorpions were crawling over his body, birds of
paradise were flying around the flat and a dog had gnawed at the boy's
arm. Nobody has ever been charged.

Gaille McCann, who lived downstairs from the boy, persuaded the
mothers of Cranhill to take on the dealers polluting their estate.
Cranhill's children sent photographs of their ghetto to Tony Blair.
Earlier this week, Henry McLeish, the Scottish Office Minister, drove
around the estate with some youngsters to applaud new

Mrs McCann said: "What is to celebrate? The dealers still get away
with it and addicts get as much free methadone as they like, which
just cuts down their heroin bill. This is a war zone and the dealers
are winning because whatever they say, the authorities have given up
trying to stamp out drugs. Doling out the methadone is just crude,
cheap social control. The police boast crime is down but it's still
rife and no one comes off drugs."

The minister had a photocall on the Cranhill estate to "declare war on

the dealers who are killing our children and getting money for doing
it". His motorcade drove past a drugs factory where a father-of-two
mixes heroin and

Valium in a new offering called "Zonks" and uses 12-year-old boys as

Mark took that day off school and went looking for more methadone as
he couldn't afford the UKP10 for "a heroin jag". Used syringes lie
among the rotting rubbish in the front garden where he waited to buy
his methadone. Graffiti glorifying the prescription drug defaces some
of the metal sheets covering windows of the derelict flats.

Mr McLeish accepts that methadone has its critics and needs to be more
tightly controlled: "We have had some successes with it but there are
dangers and these need to be carefully watched."

Last week Mick Goodwillie, 16, died from a cocktail of Valium and
methadone in his parents' flat two hours before they were to take him
to Ireland to get him away from the drug dealers. The family had
already moved out of the East End of Glasgow to escape the needle
culture but his mother, Mary, said: "No matter where you go, there are
always people ready to push drugs to our children."

Mick was drugs victim number 21. A few days earlier, Victim 20 had
been Kenneth Warren, 26, a Big Issue seller, who was found in a
portable lavatory in a shopping precinct with a syringe sticking in
his groin.

Mr Bryce, who runs the recovery group Calton Athletic, says that he
has information that the majority of those dying have taken methadone:
"Some people have been it on for 15 years or more. When are the
doctors going to say isn't it time you kicked the habit, not feed it?
There are 3,500 prescriptions for it every day. Addicts are liars and
they exaggerate their heroin habit to the GP to get bigger methadone
doses. What they don't swig themselves, they sell. The addicts go
along with the sham because they get free bus passes to collect their
methadone, improved benefit Giros and there are jobs earmarked for
them even though they are still on drugs, yet no help is given to kids
who want to be clean."

Mr Bryce, a reformed addict, says his attacks on the methadone
programme has cost his Calton project its official funding. His work
has had high-profile supporters including Lenny Henry and Robbie
Coltrane - who played him in a television film. The Chancellor, Gordon
Brown, extolled Calton's virtues for a glossy magazine.

"The experts think they control the addicts," Mr Bryce said. "Police
pat themselves on the back and say heroin addicts on methadone commit
one crime a day instead of five, but that's still one too many."

In the downstairs snooker room of his project, Kerry, 21, describes
how methadone was "my free hit in the morning to get my head off the
pillow - you take it because they tell you it will ease the pain of
withdrawal but it's harder to kick than heroin. I started on heroin at
14 because I wanted to impress a boy."

Chris, 20, admits he was a dealer and a housebreaker to pay for his
habit. "I bought methadone from friends but it makes you feel worse
and just keeps your tolerance level up for the heroin you still need."
Beside him, Angela, 19, confessed that she would ask friends to go the
doctors and lie about having a heroin habit so they could get
prescriptions for methadone.

Tom Gilhooly, the clinical director of Lanarkshire Drug Service which
covers the east side of Glasgow, argues that it is not the drug that
is to blame, but the failure of some of his colleagues to police its
use. "We have the worst heroin problem in Britain so you have to fight
fire with fire. Used properly, methadone allows addicts to function
and stops them stealing. It does work, but doctors should do regular
monitoring of users and not hand out weekly doses in one go."

Pharmacists are supposed to dole out the daily dose at their counter
and make the addicts swallow a glass of water to stop them holding the
methadone in their mouth to sell later. Some pharmacists now have

private rooms where patients take methadone and in some areas "swallow
clinics" have been set up to ensure people take their treatment under

Dr Gilhooly, who works at a drug crisis centre, said: "It's a
synthetic opiate that acts in the body the same way as heroin and
takes away the withdrawal symptoms. It stops craving but doesn't give
the buzz so youngsters think they should take more. If you overdose,
the part of the brain that tells you to breathe shuts down and you
asphyxiate. That is what you die of from methadone. "It's easy to say
stop it tomorrow but more than 3,000 people would be at risk. The use
of heroin would rocket, so would crime and people will die of other
drug abuse. Addicts here mix their drugs including the liberal use of
the sleeping capsule, temazepam, which is a local delicacy in Glasgow."

On the club scene, police say that teenagers are buying UKP35 "party
packs" which include an Ecstasy tablet, some amphetamines, cannabis,
temazepam or heroin.

Detective Superintendent Barry Dougall said: "Youngsters who don't
want parents to know they are on a high from Ecstasy or amphetamines
think they can come down by smoking heroin or cannabis or taking the
temazepam. Methadone helps to stabilise heroin users and takes the
chaos out of their lives and reduces criminality."

He said that 19 of the 99 who died last year from drugs had taken
methadone. The figures are about average for recent years in
Strathclyde. The latest figures for the rest of England and Wales show
177 addicts died along with another 220 from "non-dependent abuse of
drugs" in 1997 but the Home Office doesn't list which drug killed them.

An extra UKP13 million was promised in the Budget to target Scotland's
drug dealers but David McAuley, who resigned as head of Scotland
Against Drugs, said: "The messages are still confused whether we want
to stop drugs or just reduce the harm." As a pharmacologist in 1982,
he was one of the first to run a methadone project at Muirhouse in
Edinburgh where Trainspotting was set. Now he says: "It's a tragedy to
have seen this drug so misused. The arrogance of some doctors who
advocate it is breathtaking and yet people are dying every week."

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