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Scepticism on use on methadone in Northumberland

Coun Georgina Hill
Coun Georgina Hill

Investment in drug-treatment services in Northumberland is estimated to have prevented 85,000 crimes per year, but one councillor is far from convinced about the use of methadone.

Earlier this year, Coun Georgina Hill, ward member for Berwick East, asked questions about the drug at a Northumberland County Council meeting in terms of the length of time users are on it, links to suicide and companies’ commercial interests in people continuing to use it.

At this month’s meeting of the authority’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, a report explained that there is strong international evidence that opiate substitution therapy (OST) – using methadone or other drugs – can lead to a reduction in the use of heroin.

It adds that OST should be delivered as part of a wider treatment system which also provides psychosocial and recovery support, as offered by the Northumberland Recovery Partnership (NRP).

In Northumberland, there are around 1,000 people misusing opiate-based substances and in 2016/17, 889 of them were in treatment – a proportion which compares very favourably to national figures.

Of these, 43 per cent had been in treatment for under two years, while 32 per cent had been for six years or more, but councillors were told that it was important to remember that drug abuse is a ‘lapsing condition’.

The report adds that all deaths of service users in Northumberland are reviewed, including suspected suicides, but it is often difficult to identify if these deaths are caused by deliberate or accidental overdose.

For the deaths reviewed in the county, methadone has never been the only substance involved and the individual has been taking a number of other substances concurrently, including alcohol.

However, Coun Hill said: “Nothing in this report has allayed my concern. I’m not a scientist or a medic, but I studied history and history has shown many times when popular medical opinion has been proven wrong.”

She also read out a letter from a charity operating in Berwick which raised a number of concerns it had collected from users.

These included being kept on a methadone prescription for longer than they feel necessary, a lack of psychosocial intervention, being asked to choose between treatment for drug or alcohol dependency issues if they have both and access to NRP services in the town.

But Coun Kath Nisbet said the programme was very welcome and that it has been successful in her Croft ward in Blyth, an area where these drug dependency issues have been prevalent.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service