Methadone to be dumped in Scotland as treatment for heroin addiction

A new approach to tackling heroin addiction is about to be tried out in the United Kingdom.

Health authorities in Scotland are planning to phase out methadone treatment programmes for heroin addicts and offer instead alternative therapies and residential rehabilitation programmes.

The change in policy follows mounting evidence which has shown that methadone programmes, first introduced in the 1970s, have failed to reduce addiction rates or cut the number of drug-related deaths.

The shift in policy indicates a radical change in attitude from using the heroin substitute to wean addicts off heroin - to encouraging abstinence by offering support via a range of other treatment options.

Methadone is also an addictive opiate and costs the government around £12m a year and research suggests that five years after starting the treatment, 90% of addicts are still taking methadone.

Recent government figures show that drug-related deaths rose to a record high of 421 in 2006 and methadone was present in 97 of those recorded deaths, 25 more than in the previous year.

The new drug strategy, the first significant change in policy in almost a decade, will be unveiled in Scotland this week and is expected to include a multi-million-pound expansion in the range of alternatives to methadone to help addicts back into society.

These are expected to include psychological therapies, residential abstinence programmes, support for families and children and education and employment training - all designed to help addicts live a drug-free life.

A recent study by the Centre for Drug Misuse at Glasgow University revealed that whereas one in three heroin users who received residential treatment was drug free after three years, only 3 per cent of those who were placed on methadone were drug free after the same period.

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