Methadone Linked To Big Rise In Scottish Drug Deaths

Scottish police forces recorded a dramatic rise in drug-related deaths last year, prompting fears that substance abuse is spiralling out of control. Official figures published today reveal the number of deaths from heroin, morphine and other drugs rose to 374 in 2006, an increase of 42% on the previous year.

The statistics, compiled by police forces across Scotland, show that nearly 71% of the deaths were attributed to heroin and morphine overdoses. Nearly a quarter were linked to methadone, a heroin substitute used as the frontline treatment for addiction to the drug.

Almost all of the deaths were categorised as accidental overdoses.

Figures for England and Wales showed a 1% fall in drug-related deaths to 1,366 over the same period, according to coroners’ data released in an annual report of the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths. Overall, the UK showed a 7% rise in deaths from drug misuse. Most deaths were male (76%), under 45 (71%) and 96% white. In England and Wales, 52% of those who died were unemployed.

The Scottish Executive has been criticised for presiding over a poorly-run methadone programme, which focuses on stabilising heroin addicts’ drug use rather than weaning them off the substance. Many clinics practice a “methadone in the community” scheme, which allows addicts to be prescribed methadone even if they continue to use heroin.

Of the estimated 51,000 heroin addicts in Scotland, nearly half are also on methadone.

“What we now have in Scotland is not a population of heroin addicts, but a population of heroin and methadone addicts,” said Neil McKeganey, director of Glasgow University’s Centre for Drug Misuse.

Research has shown that rehabilitation schemes that admit addicts into drug-free centres are more effective at reducing drug use than methadone alone.