Methadone, the green liquid used as a heroin substitute since the mid-80s is facing new enemies and criticisms.
Ian Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary has come out against methadone saying that addicts have been parked on the drug for years rather than betting off of opiates entirely.
Methadone was initially used as a way to step addicts down from heroin addiction while providing harm reduction. The drug could be administered by professionals and the dosage would be gradually lowered to prevent the crippling withdrawal symptoms of heroin abuse.
Smith said that, while the initial intention behind methadone was good, it has now become more of a profit centre for pharmaceutical companies than a drug treatment. Addicts are placed on methadone and just left there which simply replaces one addiction with another Smith said.
Currently there are 140,000 addicts on methadone which costs £3,000 each per year. Of those people, 50,000 have been using methadone for more than 4 years and 6,255 have been using it for over 10 years.
Those taking methadone may also find themselves unable to work which means they must claim benefits to survive. Smith cites this as a great reason to promote full treatment and abstinence rather than harm reduction for heroin addicts.
“The evidence shows just how far this policy has failed. Half of patients report using heroin on top of methadone regularly or sometimes, and nearly a third say they have sold, swapped or given their medication to someone else,” Smith said.
The Work and Pensions Secretary went on to say that those who were placed on methadone often did not receive the support they needed. 40% did not receive psychosocial counselling and the number of people who have been on methadone for more than 4 years has been growing.
Mr Smith’s remarks were sparked by a recent decision by the UK government. The Home Office was considering implementing time limits for methadone. This would ensure that no one could simply be permanently put on the drug. The Advisory Council on the Misuse or Drugs (ACMD) advised the home office against this stating that it would cause more relapses and a rise in crime.
Smith argues that, given methadone’s track record, it has already been shown to be a failure. While it may work as a way to step people down form heroin addiction, that is not what is happening. He believes methadone is just being used as a cheap way for a government to say it is treating addicts without having to invest much time or thought into the treatment.
Whether you agree with methadone or not, it seems clear that more must be done to treat heroin addiction and ensure that addicts break free from their habit.