Scotlands Methadone Deaths

Not only has the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland more than doubled in the last decade, the numbers of deaths linked to methadone has risen by nearly one third in two years.

Official records from The General Register Office for Scotland shows that 574 people died from drug-related causes in Scotland in 2008 – that is a 26 percent increase from 2007 and well over double the death rate from a decade ago. The number of methadone related deaths has risen by nearly 10 percent in 2 years making methadone the fastest rising cause of drug related deaths in Scotland.

Disturbing statistics

The General Register Office for Scotland states that 574 drug related deaths were reported in 2008. More than twice as many as in 1998 with 249 casuaties, making the total increase a whopping 119 percent in the past ten years.

The number of drug-related deaths has risen in eight of the past ten years: the long-term trend appears to be steadily upwards. 62 percent of the registered deaths in 2008 are directly linked to drug abuse. Heroin and morphine accounts for 59% of the drug deaths. The number of methadone related deaths has risen by nearly 10 percent in 2 years. Methadone was involved in 23 percent of the deaths in 2006. In 2008 the number had risen to 32 percent.  

The disturbing increase in drug deaths linked to Methadone caused a reaction from the former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, Graeme Pearson, who warned as early as in 2006 that the Scottish use of methadone was out of proportion:

− To have more than 20,000 people daily accessing methadone, It is ridiculous. We need to find a way of reducing those numbers, Mr.Pearson said while demanding more effort towards a drug free existence rather than solely harm reduction(BBC).

Controversial use of Methadone

Neil McKeganey, professor of drug misuse research at the University of Glasgow, agreed with Mr. Pearson and claimed there were now parts of Scotland where there were more addict deaths associated with methadone than heroin.  

− I think that it would be regarded by many people as a rather shocking state of affairs in which an addict may be continuing to use heroin but receiving highly addictive medication on top of that, placing him or herself at a real risk of overdose.Clearly if you've got somebody receiving that medication approaching 20 years then it hasn't been a stepping stone to their recovery.Much of the methadone programme in Scotland is not about getting people off, it's about continuing them in a state of dependency, Professor McKeganey continued.

Dr Roy Robertson from the Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland, was of another opinion, and said removing methadone would cause many more problems:

− A decrease in availability of methadone would give rise to all sorts of things - increasing sudden deaths, blood-borne virus spread, HIV infection, hepatitis C infection and all that social problem area that ends up with people in custody, and causes violence and criminality (BBC). 

In response to the critcism against the liberal use of methadone,  Dr Robertson was one of 40 specialists from around the world who outlined their concerns in a group letter to The Scotsman newspaper claiming that methadone treatment has helped more people in the world overcome their problems with heroin than any other methode of treatment.

Dr. Robertson refered to a study he led at Edinburgh University which concluded that methadone treatment reduced the frequency of drug use.It also led to a drop in the risk of death by 13 percent each year, he claimed.The long-term study followed hundreds of heroin abusers in the Muirhouse area of Edinburgh over almost 30 years. It found that those on heroin substitutes such as methadone led less chaotic lives - and lived longer. But the findings also showed the drug could prolong the number of years users continued to inject heroin. 

Increase in new HIV infections

The number of newly diagnosed HIV infected injecting drug users in the UK including Scotland has in fact been increasing since the end of the 90s in spite of the rapid growth in substitution programs in both England, Wales and Scotland. 

The below data is taken from the recent report "United Kingdom New HIV Diagnoses to end of June 2010" (published online by the UK Health Protaction Agency, June 2010), and shows a peak in 2006.


Scotlands Methadone Deaths


"Trainspotting" generation dying

The Scottish Government published its drugs action strategy in May 2007. Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said at the time:

− As a legacy of long-term drug misuse over recent decades, drug-related deaths may continue to rise over the next few years, especially among older men.

Males accounted for the vast majority (461, or 80 percent) of the drug-related deaths in 2008. In recent years the largest number of drug-related deaths has tended to be among 25-34 year olds. In 2008, there were 211 drug-related deaths of people aged 25-34 (representing 37 percent of all drug-related deaths) and 174 drug-related deaths of 35-44 year olds (30 percent). In addition, 92 people aged under the age of 25 died (16 percent), as did 97 people aged 45 and over (17 percent).

The figures, released by the General Register Office for Scotland, suggest an emerging trend that addicts who began using drugs in the 1980s and 90s, when heroin abuse gripped Glasgow and Edinburgh, are now dying, notes The Guardian. The novelist Irvine Welsh captured the extremes of Scotland's heroin abuse during the 1980s in his novel Trainspotting, which told the story of users in Leith, Edinburgh.

The greatest increases in deaths has been among users in the 35-44 age group and those over 45. The rate of deaths among addicts under the age of 25 is falling. The number of drug-related deaths is expected to increase over the coming years, drug treatment specialists and ministers warned, as the health of older and long-term addicts continues to deteriorate. Most addicts are "poly drug users" who abuse a number of substances and often die from other illnesses or chronic drug-related problems rather than overdoses.