Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Doctors cash in on methadone in West Dunbartonshire
DOCTORS were paid more than £600,000 of taxpayers’ cash last year for prescribing methadone to drug addicts in West Dunbartonshire, the Lennox Herald can reveal.
And the health board pays GPs £372 for every patient on their list who is prescribed the heroin substitute.
These figures have stunned drugs campaigners – particularly as methadone has just a 10 per cent success rate in getting addicts clean.
Around 400 drug addicts were prescribed methadone by 15 doctors’ practices throughout West Dunbartonshire between April 2010 and April 2011.
But payments were made quarterly, so the health board forked out £372 each time for a total of 1615 patients – and also stumped up a £1000 ‘single retainer fee’ each year to each practice.
Neil McKeganey is a professor at Glasgow University’s Centre for Drug Misuse Research.
He said: “Although I was aware of these costs, I think many of your readers and many local people in Dumbarton will not be aware of such payments made to GPs in relation to methadone prescribing.
“My worry in this regard is not simply that research within Scotland has shown that only a small fraction of drug users treated with methadone are becoming drug free.
“Less than 10 per cent are able to overcome their drug dependency when being prescribed methadone, which means that around 90 per cent remain addicted despite being prescribed the drug.
“There is a danger that as a result of paying doctors to provide a specific treatment that other treatments that may be needed are not promoted accordingly.
“For example, there is no equivalent payment made to doctors for referring patients to residential rehabilitation services in Scotland despite there being evidence that these services are highly effective in getting addicts off drugs.”
West Dunbartonshire consistently has one of the highest drug death rates in the UK and in 2009 there were seven deaths related to the use of methadone.
Four years ago, in the Lothian region of Scotland, there were more deaths linked to methadone than heroin – with the figures at 22 and 20 respectively.
Leven Councillor Jim Bollan, who has campaigned for years for a different approach to tackling drug addiction, said: “Methadone is more a part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution.
“Methadone is as, if not more, addictive than heroin yet it is the opiate substitute predominately used by GPs and the health board.”
A spokeswoman for NHSGGC said: “We have robust policies in place for the prescribing of methadone to help people tackle their drug problems and any spend on the methadone programme generates significant savings for both the health and criminal justice service.
“Problem drug users not in treatment actually cost the health and criminal justice service more than those in treatment.
“GPs in West Dunbartonshire are paid as part of the national enhanced service element of the GMS contract.
“GP practices are paid a single annual retainer fee of £1000 per practice for patients on their lists requiring methadone treatment. In addition, they are paid £372.93 per patient per year.”