Methadone responsible for nearly half of Scotland's drug deaths - Rehab Guide
Methadone blog

Methadone responsible for nearly half of Scotland’s drug deaths

The dangers of methadone use

Last year a staggering 1,187 people died in Scotland as a direct result of a drug overdose, and poisoning and nearly half of the drug deaths in Scotland were attributed to the potent narcotic opiate methadone. This is especially worrying as it is an NHS prescribed medicine.

The NHS commonly prescribe methadone to heroin addicts as a safer alternative to the Class A illicit substance. Its purpose is to reduce potential harm and to help addicts get clean with complete abstinence from all drugs being the end goal.

Methadone is favoured over other heroin substitutes for its low cost and low potential for drug misuse. However, it is evident from the number of deaths associated with methadone, that a large proportion of methadone prescribed heroin addicts are still using other opiates on top.

Is methadone safe?

Methadone is considered a safe drug when taken exactly as prescribed. It is a much safer drug than heroin when it is NOT abused.

The problem is that as a replacement for heroin is that it does not produce the same euphoric hit, that a heroin addict receives from using heroin. This means methadone prescribed heroin addicts are prone to using heroin on top of their methadone script.

Whilst methadone does reduce the physical need for heroin; it does not remove the craving nor treat the psychological aspect of addiction as an illness. As a result, many heroin addicts put on methadone scripts go on to develop a polydrug addiction of exceptionally high risk. It is through abuse of the drug that so many people die.

Drug deaths in Scotland on methadone statistics have highlighted the extent of the problem and have pushed the country into a public health crisis.

Pros & Cons of Methadone

There are advantages and disadvantages to taking methadone if a person is heroin-dependent. Whether or not the drug works for a person and is safe to use, very much depends on the individual and their motivation to get clean.

Anyone who is heroin-dependent should, first of all, consider a full medical heroin detox. This is the safest way of stopping heroin and if successful means that the individual will be clean from all narcotic drugs.

Therapy and evidence-based addiction treatments are far more beneficial to an individual who is cleared of drugs and not taking a substitute. This is why rehab centres always carry out a full medical detox prior to commencing intensive drug rehabilitation.

The pros of methadone include:

  • It is accessible and legal when prescribed
  • Methadone reduces the need for criminality when a regime is adhered to
  • Methadone reduces heroin withdrawal symptoms on a physical level
  • A methadone script can enable a person to stabilise and then taper off
  • Some individuals are able to function better on methadone as opposed to heroin or other substitutes
  • It reduces the need to mix with other drug addicts and drug dealers
  • Methadone cuts many of the risks associated with intravenous heroin use – i.e. blood-borne virus contamination, collapsed veins, DVT, abscesses, HIV, infections and heroin overdose

The cons of methadone include:

  • Those that are prescribed methadone are required to attend a chemist daily in order to receive their medication
  • The temptation to use heroin on top, especially if the script does not “hold” the person still remains
  • Someone who is heroin-dependent can still experience heroin withdrawal; this often happens during the methadone titration process
  • Using other opiates, drugs or alcohol on top of methadone puts a person at high risk of drug poisoning and death
  • Methadone detox is more complex that a heroin detox, mainly if the drug has been used for a prolonged period of time
  • Methadone is still a very potent mind-altering chemical. Therefore the brain’s pathways do not have the chance to recover and any therapy undertaken isn’t nearly as effective if the person was clean
  • Some individuals do not feel “clean” on methadone and therefore do not see themselves as being in recovery
  • Methadone does not give the same euphoric high that heroin does. A heroin addict can still crave and obsess over heroin despite using methadone.
  • It can be challenging to hold down a job whilst on methadone due to being intoxicated, having to attend a pharmacy daily and possibly undergoing drug testing in the workplace
  • The drug has many side effects, and long term use leads to many complications
  • Swapping from heroin to methadone is just exchanging one addiction for another if it is not used as a means to get clean
  • Methadone can be abused, and this can bypass drug and alcohol team testing kits, especially if using other opiates on top
  • Someone on methadone can still bump into using associates and dealers at local drug and alcohol team appointments and at the pharmacy dispensing their script
  • Drug addicts can use methadone as a cushion. Instead of tackling their drug addiction, they may see it as a safety net.
  • Methadone only treats the physical aspect of addiction, not the psychological. An Individuals needs to make considerable changes to their life and wean themselves off of methadone before the benefits of recovery can be really felt.

When weighing up using a methadone substitute against undergoing a full medical heroin or opiate detox, there is no contest. Completing a medical heroin detox will mean that you are completely clean from opiate drugs and able to better engage in recovery, therapy and life in general.

Methadone – is not the answer to opiate addiction

Considering the side effects and negatives of methadone use, this powerful synthetic opiate really is only a substitution, not a solution to opiate addiction.

Rehab Guide know that the solution to addiction lies in bespoke evidence-based addiction treatment. Any heroin treatment programme must be tailored to the individual and treat them not only physically, but mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually too.

If methadone really worked, why are there so many drug deaths in Scotland on methadone continuing to rise?

For an effective and lasting solution to heroin addiction, please call us, we can help. Our CQC registered and regulated heroin rehabs offer full medical detoxes and bespoke rehabilitation programmes, providing you with the necessary tools to prevent heroin relapse and stay drug-free for life!

Contact us by email or on 02072052845 for FREE advice and help.


Office of National Statistics

National Records of Scotland

Author 'John


Trained in addictionology in the Johnson Model, and specializing in substance abuse for individual and couple counselling. John's personal experience has given him a wealth of insights, which he integrates into practice. His extensive training has allowed him to gain expertise in individual and group counselling, concurrent disorders, case management, executing treatment plans and relapse prevention. He started this free helpline as a result of a life change and to help others get sober and live a life free from drugs and alcohol. John covers a variety of topics relating to addiction and recovery in his articles.


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