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Methadone paradise

Sarah Paterson

The Politics Show Scotland

Methadone user
Methadone is used to assist heroin users back to normal lives

Fat, dumb and happy. No - not the title for a new Hollywood comedy. But a serious attempt to sum up 20,000+ drug users on the methadone programme by one of Holyrood's top politicians.

In an interview for this programme, the Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken says a high proportion of the drug-abusing population are sitting "fat, dumb and happy" on methadone.

He reckons we rely too much on the heroin substitute and should make more addicts go cold-turkey.

The Scottish government has already promised to promote abstinence in its new national drugs strategy as part of the budget deal compromise with the Tories.

The Conservatives want a new radical approach to the treatment of addicts is needed.

They say a shift away from treating addicts with methadone towards recovery and abstinence is needed.

"It's the extent of it. We have a very high proportion of the drug abusing population sitting fat dumb and happy on methadone, now the only thing can be said in many instances, not all it prevents them from committing crime. This is not the answer."

"Get them back into the community the only way your going to do that not in every case, is by a much greater degree of abstinence based treatments."

Hard line

It's this hard line approach that is at odds with the previous government's strategy.

Labour's Richard Simpson says Bill Aitken needs to say sorry and remember that his comments are not helpful in the wider debate.

"Bill Aitkens words are really deeply offensive and he must apologise for them.

"There are many patients on methadone who get back into work education or training.

"We do need a grown up debate about the treatments available for people with drug addiction and we need to look at alternatives including abstinence and other pharmalogical treatments but we do not need this sort of language in this discussion."

Drug death capital

Scotland is Europe's drug death capital. Figures published by the UN reveal that the number of drug related deaths rose by 25% on the previous year and are now at the highest number since records began.

The SNP government are reviewing the current spending on drug treatment and assessing whether there is enough choice for addicts in the provision of services that promote abstinence and offer residential rehabilitation.

So what are the choices facing the thousands of drug addicts in Scotland.

The Bethany Christian Centre offers a six month residential programme where no drug substitutes are allowed.

According to Chief Executive, Iain Gordon four of five people who complete the programme remain abstinent nine months later.

Alex is one of the newest residents on the programme.

"I think you have to be rehabilitation to do it, too difficult outside, you need support to set you free."

Stability created?

Abstinence programmes have had some success in treating long term drug addiction but most practitioners who treat drug addicts believe that the use of methadone plays an important part in recovery.

Patrick Joyce from the Links Project, Edinburgh said: "I think what methadone does is it starts to build in a baseline stability that enables people then to concentrate on their recovery.

"It's actually been a key tool enabling people to look at the possibility of abstinence and drug free for the first time and from that sense it's been very useful indeed and been able to move people on."

The big question facing the government as it reviews Scotland's drugs policy, is do we need to see a big shift away from treating addicts with methadone and if the Conservatives more radical approach to the treatment of addicts is needed - where will the funding come from - in what is a tight economic climate.

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