Methadone kills three times as many as heroin in Lothian

Figures reveal legal drugs behind more deaths than illegal. Picture: PA
Figures reveal legal drugs behind more deaths than illegal. Picture: PA
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LEGAL drugs are claiming significantly more lives in the Lothians than substances such as heroin and cocaine, it emerged today.

A new report into drug-related deaths showed that heroin substitute methadone was recorded as a factor in three times as many deaths as the illegal drug itself in the Edinburgh area in 2011.

Benzodiazepines such as diazepam, which can be legally given out by doctors, were implicated in the deaths of more people than illicit drugs which are only available on the street from criminal dealers.

The report also showed that an upward trend in the number of drug-related deaths in the Lothians continued, with the numbers rising by 75 per cent between 2007 and 2011 compared with the same period a decade earlier.

Katy MacLeod, training and outreach coordinator for Crew 2000, an Edinburgh-based drugs charity, said some addicts could continue to use heroin at the same time as methadone, increasing the risk of an overdose.

She said: “We find increasingly that people rarely present with just one drug. The way in which people use drugs rather than the actual drug itself is a key factor in assessing risk.”

Commenting on the rising trend of drug use in the Lothians, Ms MacLeod added: “In times such as a recession, you can see an increase in problematic use due to people being under more stress, financial burdens, risk of homelessness, difficulty accessing regular employment and a variety of other factors.

“The impact of reduced funding for the social care sector has also put pressure on many front line services.”

In total, there were 73 drug-related deaths recorded in the Lothians last year. In some cases, more than one drug was recorded as being implicated in, or potentially contributing to a single death.

Heroin was implicated in 14 deaths, cocaine was registered as a cause in three deaths, ecstasy was a factor in two deaths while amphetamine use contributed to a single death.

Methadone use contributed to 42 deaths while Benzodiazepines was registered as a cause in 24 cases.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson branded the loss of life in Edinburgh “appalling” and said the methadone programme had become a “human disaster”.

She added: “It would appear scores of families in the Lothians are being blighted by what is little more than legalised drug-taking.

“People are being parked on methadone with no hope of recovery, and now it’s killing them too.”

Jim Sherval, specialist in public health for NHS Lothian, said the number of drug deaths in recent years had remained stable in the wider Edinburgh area, but the rising trend since 1997-2001 in Lothian and across Scotland was “a cause for great concern”.

He added: “In the last five years we have invested in additional services to provide help and support for drug users.”