Methadone treatment costs in Lothians rise to more than £3m

NHS Lothian saw its bill for the heroin substitute rise. Picture: TSPL
NHS Lothian saw its bill for the heroin substitute rise. Picture: TSPL
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PUBLIC spending on methadone treatment for drug addicts in Lothian increased to more than £3 million last year, new figures revealed today.

NHS Lothian saw its bill for the heroin substitute, including payments to pharmacists, rise from £2,712,622 in 2015/16 to £3,042,609 in 2016/17.

Vulnerable drug users are being parked on methadone with no real hope of full recovery

Miles Briggs

Tory health spokesman and Lothian MSP Miles Briggs said the increase flew in the face of Scottish Government hopes of reducing the amount of methadone prescribed.

And he criticised the methadone policy for “parking” people on the synthetic drug with “no real hope of full recovery”.

Methadone is prescribed for heroin and morphine addicts in a bid to wean users off their habits as part of their rehabilitation. But some critics claim it is used too widely.

The latest figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Tories, also showed NHS Lothian increased its spending on its abstinence-based drug treatment programme from £526,641 in 2015/16 to £565,113 in 2016/17.

Mr Briggs said: “The Scottish Government has repeatedly said it wants to reduce the amount of methadone prescribed.

“But now we learn the spend in the Lothians is going up.

“That’s a disservice to vulnerable drug users who are merely being parked on methadone with no real hope of full recovery – and it’s a blow to health board budgets.

“It would be far better to give drug users meaningful and comprehensive help, rather than keep them ticking along on something that for far too many simply doesn’t work.”

And he argued methadone cost lives. “It contributed to hundreds of deaths, and the health service should not be depending on it to treat heroin addiction.”

NHS Lothian public health director Professor Alison McCallum said there was overwhelming evidence for the effectiveness of methadone treatment for the prevention of drug-related deaths.

She said: “There is also strong evidence for the importance of retaining people in treatment in order to reduce harm, such as premature death and blood-borne virus transmission. In line with the Scottish Government approach to provide the right treatment at the right time, NHS Lothian and partners provide comprehensive care to help them move on at their own pace.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Methadone is just one potential part of a package of care, treatment and recovery that can be offered to individuals to help them recover from drug addiction. Decisions on the type of treatment to prescribe are for clinicians to make, in discussion with their clients.”

He said Scotland-wide there had been a decrease in 
dispensing methadone.