Use of heroin substitute is on the increase


WIGAN’S heroin users used more than £54,000 in methadone prescriptions in the first half of the year alone.

And, shockingly, the amount prescribed and the bill for just six months in 2014 was higher than eight months’ worth last year.

Figures released under Freedom of Information rules show that from January until July this year Wigan Council’s public health teams dispensed 6,797 methadone prescriptions, at a cost of £54,787.

But from April until December 2013, there were 4,961 items handed out, worth £42,334.

Most of the prescriptions were ordered through the community drugs team, with 6,655 last year and 4,655 last year.

A total of 142 were signed by GPs last year, with 306 in 2013.

The council did not have records of how many people were being prescribed the medication or how much each dosage was.

And due to changes in service delivery, it only has figures from April 2013.

A patient who is addicted to heroin will often be given methadone to take instead of the illegal drug and the dose is gradually reduced over time.

This means that the patient can give up heroin avoiding acute withdrawal symptoms.

The key effects of methadone include reducing physical and psychological pain; feelings of warmth, relaxation and detachment.

Despite the apparent rise in figures, a spokesman for Wigan Council said that methadone use has fallen over the last few years due to better support services and rehabilitation programmes.

Prof Kate Ardern, director for public health at Wigan Council, said: “When public health transferred over to Wigan Council in 2013 the system that was in place to monitor prescriptions needed to be updated, which makes some of the early data misleading.

“While it may look as though there has been an increase in the number and cost of methadone prescriptions, there has actually been a decline over recent years, largely as a result of changes in local drug use.

“Methadone is used as one approach for clients with an opiate (heroin) addiction - but is provided in conjunction with wider support, including one to one sessions, group work and training.

“The use of opiates has declined in the borough and nationally in recent years.

“There is a lot of support on offer in the borough through the Wigan and Leigh Recovery Partnership, not just for opiate addiction, but for all drug and alcohol addiction.

“In many cases, a prescription isn’t required. If you need help, contact Wigan and Leigh Recovery Partnership on 01942 487578.”