The reality of being ‘parked’ on methadone

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Former addict says he was left “parked” on methadone for 13 years and calls on society to tackle the reality of drug addiction not through legalised doping but by giving them a chance to a see an alternative future

“They ask you how you are feeling. Pinch your hand to check how hydrated you are then give you a prescription for another month.

It blocks out your feelings and you can’t function normally with it

David Thomson

“I was hooked on methadone for 13 years.”

David Thomson (42), a father-of-four from Kirkcaldy, is a former heroin addict who claims the public should be made aware of the reality of methadone use in Fife.

The drug is prescribed as a ‘benign’ heroin substitute and is often used as a vital first tool to help stabilise patients and give them the semblance of a normal life.

But, according to David, it afforded him only a half-life; one which cost society, and his family, much more than the mere cost of a prescription.

“It blocks out your feelings and you can’t function normally with it. I just sat in my house drinking that stuff for years.

“It makes you lethargic, you body feels lazy all the time.

“I’m off it now and feel elated,” he said.

He added: “It’s embarrassing though because I’ve never worked.

“On methadone all I’ve ever done is claim incapacity benefit, housing benefit and never paid council tax. That all adds up to one big bill.”

Last week the Press carried an article, based on BBC figures, which indicated as many as 3850 people in Kirkcaldy were on methadone prescriptions.

Data is not available to determine how long some patients have been prescribed methadone for but David believes a high propotion of “early” addicts are still on the drug today.

“I was one of the first in Kirkcaldy to be given it through the addiction team and I know there’s a lot of us who have been on it for years and years.”

He added: “Some people mix it with other drugs to get high, so methadone is like a free drug from the chemist.

“If they get found out and struck off, they get referred again in six weeks’ time.

“Methadone is also cheaper to buy on the street - you can get 30ml for £5!”

That’s not to say that David feels the drug does have its place - but only as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation programme offering counselling, motivational and practical help.

“I appreciate what it did for me because I needed to get away from heroin - but I didn’t have to take it for 13 years.

He concluded: “Methadone does help but only if they manage it the right way and I would think two years at the most for the most serious cases.”

Addiction programmes have moved on...

Push a few buttons on a keyboard and you will quickly learn exactly how many people in Scotland are prescribed statins for cholesterol.

But no such reliable historic data exists for methadone, according to the official NHS source, Information Services Division Scotland.

That’s because drugs clinics often issued hand-written prescriptions, bypassing the scrutiny afforded by a computerised system in a GP’s practice.

That’s why the BBC’s figures, compiled through a Freedom of Information request, were so interesting because they revealed that 3850 methadone precriptions were dealt with by pharmacies throughout Kirkcaldy last year.

What that data was not able to show, however, was the amount prescribed for each patient and for how long - something ISD Scotland is addressing now.

Mark Steven, spokesman for Fife Drug and Alcohol Partnership told the Press addiction services in previous decades used methadone primarly to keep people alive and reduce crime, and on both measures succeeded in its aims.

However addiction treatments today were much better developed, using methadone as one component of a wider strategy.

He added: “A comprehensive review was carried out by Chief Medical Officer Harry Burns in 2013 which looked into provision of the methadone programme across Scotland and made a number of recommendations.

“It looked at international evidence and concluded it was effective in treatment for treating dependency.

“What it did also, however, was identified that the system of care had to be more recovery orientated.”