Methadone 'could save lives'

First Edition Health officials in Glasgow called for increased prescription of the heroin substitute, methadone, yesterday after deaths from drugs overdoses reached a new record.

Sarah Sim, 24, from the Gorbals, became the 74th person in Strathclyde this year to die after taking drugs. She took what is believed to a 'cocktail' of heroin and sleeping tablets. Drugs killed 43 people in Glasgow last year and 73 in 1992.

Drugs welfare workers said methadone, a synthetic opiate, helps to regulate addicts' behaviour and encourages them to give up hard drugs. A methadone maintenance programme, pioneered in Edinburgh in 1988, was introduced in Glasgow in February this year. One thousand of the city's estimated 10,000 injecting addicts have been treated so far, but many GPs oppose the scheme and are refusing to prescribe the drug.

They say methadone is also highly addictive and replacing illegal drugs with legal ones will not solve Glasgow's drugs problem.

Drugs welfare workers disagree. Graham Walkinshaw, liaison officer at the Glasgow-based Scottish Drugs Forum, said: 'Methadone is not a panacea but it is a useful tool in the struggle to reduce the problems of addiction. Yes, it is addictive, but a lot less harmful to the user than injecting street drugs, which may be adulterated and can cause death.

'Used in conjunction with social services, methadone provides a platform for weaning addicts off hard drugs.'

Alex Riach, 40, who started taking opiates when he was 17, now receives a 100ml daily dose of methadone. 'If this scheme had been introduced earlier, hundreds of people who are now dead would still be alive today,' he said.