Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham has said more detailed measurement of methadone’s success in Scotland must be developed amid fresh questions over continued use of the treatment.
Official statistics on drug and drink-related deaths released last month revealed the heroin substitute was implicated in almost half of 584 recorded deaths last year.
The figures have prompted calls from opposition parties for a review of the methadone programme, which is believed to see an estimated 22,000 addicts in Scotland prescribed the drug.
In an exclusive interview with Holyrood, Cunningham said a misunderstanding that all drug users are on methadone has ensued and insisted her focus remained on ensuring Alcohol and Drug Partnerships (ADPs) have at their disposal a wide range of options to prevent individuals simply being “herded” down a single path.
However, the Perthshire South and Kinross-shire MSP – speaking in the wake of a visit to the Dundee Cairn Centre – conceded proper identification of methadone’s success remained a matter that must be addressed.
She told Holyrood: “We ask more questions and probe more deeply than many countries in terms of our issues but we still haven’t got all of the information we could get and I had an active conversation this morning about how we can measure when a methadone programme is successful.
“One measurement of its success might be a phase where people, for example, cease to be presenting themselves to the police, cease to be living those disorganised lifestyles; they may still be on methadone but that’s one level of success that you can measure.
“But it’s not the only one because obviously you want to be able to measure what success rate do you have of getting people out the other end and completely substance-free and you know, we need more information about those measurements and those are the kind of measurements we are still working on because we’ve been working extremely hard at gathering as much information as we can.”
Ensuring addicts are offered access to a range of resources, including those based outwith the immediate geographical boundaries of their local ADP, could be aided by the introduction of a central register of services, Cunningham seemed to suggest.
She said: “The interesting thing is there isn’t a single register of all services in Scotland if you count everything from the total abstinence residential rehab service all the way through the huge variety and panoply of things that there might be available.
“We tried it quite recently in response to a letter and it’s quite challenging because we have a whole set of historic kind of things that are in place and in gathering all of that information, that’s something else that the ADPs need to do as well to make sure that they have identified all the available resources that there are in Scotland.”