The Mail on Sunday has revealed that thousands of drug addicts have spent a decade addicted to a heroin substitute provided by the NHS, at a cost of £200m.
Doctors prescribe the drug as a treatment in extreme addiction cases but the number of individuals still addicted to heroin taking methadone daily has reached record highs. Having relied on the methadone as a replacement for their heroin addiction the users have formed an addiction to the methadone that was supposed to guide them away from drug abuse altogether.
Although methadone acts as a good course of treatment in some cases it is not a certain fix and not every addict who undergoes this form of treatment can find success. NHS statistics show that 6,200 people in England have been taking substitutes provided by the state for more than ten years, with a further 27,000 for more than five years.
Methadone was linked to 340 deaths last year, twice as many as a decade ago. The annual cost of treating a heroin addict with methadone is around £3,000 a head.
Doctors were originally encouraged to prescribe methadone to tackle the heroin epidemic that hit Britain’s inner cities in the 1980s. The intention was to slow the spread of diseases such as HIV/Aids and Hepatitis C by reducing the prevalence of injecting
The Mail on Sunday revealed that 150,000 addicts being prescribed opioid substitutes –including buprenorphine as well as methadone – in recent years, at a total cost of £500 million a year.
Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘There is a group of patients… for whom methadone provides support for them to live normally.’ She said some of her patients had such deep-rooted problems that they had been on methadone for more than 20 years.
But she added: ‘We should always try to work towards recovery. There are people who would benefit from rapid access to rehab.’ Long-term use is most prevalent in the North West. In the Wirral, one in four addicts prescribed a heroin substitute has been taking it for more than 10 years.
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