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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Methadone time limit to be introduced

September 08 2010
The heroin substitute may be prescribed only for a limited period

At the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) board meeting in early July, plans were tabled to apply strict limitations to the length of time addicts can use methadone, which the NTA believes will get more addicts clean.

In its foreword to their plan for 2011, the NTA stated: "No one should be 'parked' indefinitely on methadone or similar opiate substitutes without the opportunity to get off drugs.

"New clinical guidance has introduced strict time limits to end the practice of open-ended substitute prescribing in prisons. This principle will be extended into community settings."

Around 300,000 people in England and Wales are addicted to heroin, crack cocaine or both. Approximately two-thirds are in contact with treatment agencies, but most rely on methadone or other synthetic opiates, at a cost to the taxpayer of 300m a year. The NTA and the government would rather see individuals encouraged to abstain from all drugs, whether prescribed or illegal, and go "cold turkey".

"Too often, the opportunities presented by engagement with treatment are squandered by a lack of ambition and a willingness to routinely write off the potential for dependent drug-users to assume full roles as citizens," the NTA document continued.

But strict time limits on methadone treatment would require a big expansion of residential care for addicts, according to a report in the Guardian.

The suggestion has also been furiously criticised by some board members, who feel methadone should be considered a medicine, not a drug. On the Methadone Alliance web-forum, one NTA board member said: "The idea that people are somehow 'parked' on methadone is a nonsense.

"People don't willingly subject themselves to the kind of personal intrusion and scrutiny that drug treatment subjects you to unless you're getting some significant benefits from it."

Moreover, there are concerns that the NTA is attempting to curry favour with the new coalition government, given that the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has raised to notion of scrapping the organisation and replacing it with a leaner, faster - and no doubt cheaper - recovery addiction board.

• For further reading, see: index.php/topic,2108.0.html;; newbpintro280610.pdf