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Experts warn drug death rates will rise again
Methadone is linked to one in three drug deaths
Christopher Mackie - Scotsman - 18th August 2010
Calls have been made for a rethink on the use of methadone in Scotland after official figures revealed the number of deaths in which it was implicated reached a ten-year high last year. Amid a general fall in people being killed by drugs, fatalities in which the heroin substitute was cited as a contributory factor rose to 173 in 2009, up from 169 in 2008 and a surge of 51 per cent since 2007 when it was associated with 114 deaths.
The controversial drug treatment was found to be at least partly responsible for more than a third (32 per cent) of all of the 545 drug-related fatalities in Scotland last year, and was associated with the second-highest number of drug-addict deaths after heroin or morphine, which contributed to 322 losses of life - 59 per cent of the total.
The 2009 methadone figure also equates to roughly one death every 48 hours.
The rising number of deaths linked to methadone led to calls for the policy of wide prescription of the treatment to addicts to be reviewed, with one drug-misuse expert describing the current situation as being of "enormous concern".
Professor Neil McKeganey, the director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University, said: "The situation in relation to methadone - where it appears we have around a third of addict deaths associated with the drug we are prescribing most widely to treat drug addiction - is of enormous concern.
"We really ought to be looking again at this policy of widespread methadone prescribing. The statistics are inescapable - we ought to be looking at why we are doing it and whether all of those to whom it is being prescribed are deriving benefit from it."
Peter McCann, the chairman of the Castle Craig Hospital for alcoholism and drug addiction, lent his weight to the calls, adding: "Today's drug-death figures would have been described as totally catastrophic just a few years ago. There must now be a total rethink in Scotland along the lines of the National Treatment Agency in England which totally reversed its policy earlier this month.
"They will be limiting the use of methadone with strict multi-disciplinary assessments at regular intervals. The policies prescribing methadone in Scotland have obviously failed and must be revised."
Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservative health spokesman, said the focus of the Scottish drugs strategy should be on recovery and abstinence.
He said: "The attempts of the last decade to merely manage the problem, based on harm reduction and an over-reliance on methadone, just have not worked.
"The challenge now is to expand the range of rehabilitation services on offer and move to abstinence and recovery."
But the treatment was defended by Biba Brand of the Scottish Drugs Forum: "We know from research that staying on methadone tends to prolong their life by about 13 per cent.
Experts warn drug death rates will rise again as Scotland posts
second-highest number of fatalies ever
Daily Record - 17th August 2010
Scotland has seen the second highest number of drug deaths since records began - despite a fall in the number for the first time in four years.
Figures released today show deaths dropped to 545 in 2009 from 574 the previous year, a decrease of 5%.
But the total is still the second-highest ever recorded - and experts warn the long-term trend is for a steady rise.
This also comes just one year after the figures hit the highest recorded in Scotland.
The Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS area accounted for the highest local number with a record 200 deaths there. NHS Grampian recorded an increase to a new high of 52 over the year.
Heroin and morphine were implicated in 322 deaths in Scotland, while the heroin substitute methadone may have contributed to 173 deaths.
Alcohol was implicated in 165 deaths, almost one-third, according to the figures from the General Register Office for Scotland.
Community safety minister Fergus Ewing said: "These figures published today remind us that drug misuse destroys lives, and the impact is felt far beyond the individual user.
"Fewer people lost to drug use is always good news, but we must acknowledge that these figures remain high.
"It is clear we continue to face a challenge to help steer people away from problem drug use and towards recovery."
The Scottish Government provided a record £28.6 million for frontline drug treatment services this year.
Mr Ewing, who was visiting Glasgow Addiction Services, announced a national programme for Naloxone, an opiate antidote which temporarily reverses the effects of overdose.
He said: "Naloxone isn't the solution to drug-related deaths but it is an important intervention. It has role to play within a wider range of treatment and support in reducing harm and supporting recovery."
The Government is spending £500,000 over two years for the programme.
All prisons will supply the drug and training to prisoners "vulnerable" to overdoses before release.
Biba Brand, of the Scottish Drugs Forum, added: "In the USA and Europe, take-home Naloxone programmes have been linked with reductions in drug deaths of up to 34%.
"If people are to have a chance of recovering from a heroin problem - and we are to stop the damage caused to families and communities through these deaths - the first priority is helping people to stay alive. This programme aims to do that."
Dr Roy Robertson, chairman of the National Forum on Drug-Related Deaths, said: "Taking into account what we have experienced in the past concerning the general upward trend in figures this year's drug related deaths show a similar pattern to previous years.
"Any reduction is, however, welcome as each death is a personal tragedy and a family and community disaster."
Labour community safety spokesman James Kelly said: "Particularly worrying is the number of children and young adults who become involved in occasional drug-taking and develop a serious dependency at an early age.
"Worrying too is that areas of high social deprivation continue to suffer from higher levels of drug abuse.
"More work needs to go into prevention and intervention programmes as well as into a renewed effort on educating young people about the dangers of drugs.
"Drug Treatment and Testing Orders have proven to be a robust and effective approach in tackling drug misuse but the SNP government have been slow to expand their use.
"Labour believes that greater use of such orders could be a positive measure in the fight against drug misuse."
The Methadone debate
£60000 cost of keeping an addict on drugs
Cold turkey for addicts
Fury at council plan to give addicts free heroin
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