Prescription for crime? Chemists defend methadone policy

PHARMACISTS insist they are right to dish out methadone in the city centre, after the policy was questioned by senior police officers.

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Pharmacists say they are right to dispense methadone in the city centre
Pharmacists say they are right to dispense methadone in the city centre

As we revealed yesterday, Strathclyde Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan and British Transport Police's Scottish commander Ellie Bird called for a debate on where the heroin substitute was dispensed.

They were voicing concerns from frontline officers worried that chaotic users were being drawn in to busy locations such as Glasgow Central Station by the methadone services there.

However, drugs workers, while happy to talk to the police, believe they have to offer help to the many addicts they say would gravitate to the city centre regardless of whether they could fill their prescriptions there or not.

Iain Brotchie, spokesman for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Scotland, said: "It's important to understand why offering methadone dispensing in city centre pharmacies is a good idea.

"Many drug misusers might not want people in their own community seeing them going to get their methadone.

"Others will need a city centre pharmacy to dispense their methadone if they are trying to hold down a job as they battle their addictions.

"Of course, some drug misusers will live in the city centre as well, and they want to get their methadone from a convenient pharmacy. If the police have concerns about the impact of methadone outside certain pharmacies, it would be important to discuss those concerns.

"We would be happy to engage with the police.

"It would also be vital to talk to the pharmacists in the city centre about their experiences."

Boots – which owns the Central Station pharmacy, which is open until midnight, has already defended its practice.

Police are not criticising specific chemists, who provide methadone under contract with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

A spokesman for the health board today said: "The benefits of easy access to addiction services have been identified as a key element in the treatment of patients and this is reflected in the current provision of services."

Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird, as we reported yesterday, is not attacking methadone treatment in itself. Her worry is over where the service is provided.

She said: "While I recognise the needs, and support its provision for those on the methadone programme as part of their rehabilitation, I would suggest that there is a real need for a much wider debate involving all those involved and support the notion of administering this in a more suitable environment."

Mr Corrigan also reckons city centre locations should be questioned.

He said: "It would seem more appropriate to offer this facility at hubs away from the city centre where people can access a range of other services, such as help for their children.

"This would mean there would be less of an impact on others, and perhaps reduce the stigma around those who use the service."

Criminologist Alasdair Forsyth, of Glasgow Caledonian University, contrasts crime and safety concerns around pharmacies dispensing methadone with problems close to off-licences.

Sometimes, he suggested, shops selling drink are close to crime because of their central location, not because they push booze.

He said: "Both alcohol outlets and opportunities for crime are most concentrated at city centre locations.

"Likewise, drug-related crime is also concentrated in city centres because the opportunities for shoplifting, and hence street drug sales, are greatest here.

"Busy locations also often allow such activities to 'hide in plain sight'.

"On the down side, like binge or street drinking, any anti-social behaviour resulting from drug use can make city centres less attractive places for businesses, the public and tourists.

"On the plus side city centre locations for dispensing methadone are accessible to a wide range of addicts (e.g. the homeless) and are locations covered by a great deal of surveillance technologies with the police and emergency services always on hand."

Dr Forsyth reckons there could be a downside of transferring methadone services out of town centres.

He said: "The alternative, of dispensing methadone from peripheral locations, needs to be carefully thought through, otherwise it may result in making such services less accessible, less contained, and put both addicts and any nearby residential communities or children at risk of increased exposure to harm."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson wants to see methadone prescribing cut full stop.

The Glasgow MSP said: "Moving the problem only creates issues elsewhere.

"The Scottish Government should also explore more abstinence-based programmes.

"If significantly fewer people were parked on methadone, where they accessed it would be far less of an issue."

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