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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 March 2008, 14:43 GMT
Drug addict comments spark storm
Man taking methadone
Methadone is used to assist heroin users back to normal lives
A senior Tory politician has been criticised after claiming many Scots drug addicts were sitting "fat, dumb and happy" on methadone.

Bill Aitken, the party's Holyrood justice spokesman, said improved abstinence-based projects were needed to help treat heroin users.

Drug treatment experts and Labour hit out at his comments.

Mr Aitken acknowledged methadone had its place but refused to apologise for his remarks to BBC Scotland.

The number of people treated for heroin use in Scotland reached record levels, according to figures released by the Scottish Government in July 2007.

It's disappointing to see another negative portrayal of methadone patients in the public sphere
Dr Saket Priyadarshi
Drug treatment expert

About 21,000 people were said to be using methadone to help them with their addiction.

Mr Aitken told BBC Scotland's Politics Show using methadone as a first-resort treatment, which kept patients in a state of "partial suspended animation", had to be tackled.

"We have a very high proportion of the drug-abusing population sitting fat, dumb and happy on methadone," he said.

"We have got to stop this over-reliance on methadone, get people off that particular form of treatment and get them back into the community.

"The only way you're going to do that, not in every case I accept, is by a much greater degree of abstinence-based treatment."

Dr Saket Priyadarshi, of the Glasgow Addiction Service, said some methadone-using patients had been able to work, pay the mortgage and take part in family life, while others had been able to completely stop using the heroin substitute and live abstinent lives.

He said of Mr Aitken's comments: "It's disappointing to see another negative portrayal of methadone patients in the public sphere.

"Many patients on methadone are doing very well and I don't recognise that description."

Bill Aitken
Mr Aitken said there was too much reliance on methadone

Mike McCarron, of the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, said Mr Aitken's comments flew in the face of international experience.

He added: "Mr Aitken is seeing the world as he would like to see it but, in fact, he doesn't understand the real life experience of so many people and the great benefits they're achieving in these services."

Scottish Labour public health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson branded the Tory MSP's comments "deeply offensive".

"We do need a grown-up debate about what's available for people with drug addiction," he said.

"We need to look at the alternatives, including abstinence and other pharmacological treatments, but we do not need this sort of language in this discussion."

Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said drug treatment needed to be more than a prescription service and promised improved services to help more methadone users back into drug-free lives.



SEE ALSO
Huge rise in Scottish drug deaths
30 Aug 07 |  Scotland
Heroin treatment at record levels
23 Jul 07 |  Scotland
Birth control call for methadone
11 May 06 |  Scotland
Addicts' children 'to come first'
08 May 06 |  Scotland

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