Methadone Prescribing (Research Report)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 18th December 2008.

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Photo of John Wilson John Wilson Scottish National Party 12:00 pm, 18th December 2008

To ask the First Minister, in light of the recent research report by the University of Glasgow on the effectiveness of methadone prescribing policy, what actions will be taken to address the report's findings. (S3F-1309)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

We agree with the conclusion of the research, which confirmed

"the value of methadone-maintenance services as part of a 'mixed economy' of services for the treatment of drug use."

However, the national drugs strategy was clear that the focus of all drug treatment and rehabilitation services should be recovery. We want that wider range of services to be in place, to enable people to move on from their problem drug use towards a drug-free life and to make a positive contribution to Scottish society.

We recently announced the first national target for access to a range of drug treatments, through the health improvement, efficiency, access and treatment—HEAT—system, and we are working with the sector to ensure that targets are met.

Photo of John Wilson John Wilson Scottish National Party

I reinforce concerns that have been raised by the Maxie Richards Foundation. The foundation says that the £25 million that is spent on drugs harm reduction has only a 3 per cent success rate and fails to deliver the vital services that are required to treat people who have a drug addiction. I urge the First Minister to consider action that would tackle how we deal with drug addiction in Scotland.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The Government's strategy to tackle issues to do with drug addiction was approved a few months ago by every party in the Parliament. It is based on the idea of recovery and on person-centred care. In the strategy document, we say:

"recovery should be made the explicit aim of all services".

Many members do not think that that was always the case in previous strategies.

The strategy acknowledges that different approaches work for different people. The key is to ensure that the range of services is available in all parts of Scotland. The Government is focused on achieving exactly that.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I am sure that all members acknowledge that drug addiction is a serious problem, not just for the people who are addicted but for their families and the communities in which they live. I am sure that the First Minister agrees that we should take every possible step to tackle that blight throughout Scotland.

Does the First Minister acknowledge that most sensible people in Scotland think that it is reasonable that people who are addicted to drugs and who are in receipt of benefits should be given support and treatment to come off drugs? Why is the First Minister opposed to doing that?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

We do not want to create a situation in which benefit claimants jump the queue for rehabilitation services. It is sad that the queue was lengthy under the previous Administration, and the issue needs to be tackled now.

A pilot study in England on benefit withdrawal, which took place a few years ago, concluded that there were negative consequences of the approach for families, wider society and drug addicts. Given the pilot's conclusions and concerns about acceptable provision in the system of access to rehabilitation and about the priority that people in the queue should have, there are good reasons for being cautious about believing that the withdrawal of benefits would offer a magic solution.