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In Ireland - a Cure Worse Than the Disease? Methadone Kills More than Heroin Each Year

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posted 01:39 PM EST, Sun January 27, 2008
In Ireland - a Cure Worse Than the Disease? Methadone Kills More than Heroin Each Year © By Lindsay Spirit

Heroin killed 28 in Dublin last year - Methadone 31. Is the cure worse than the disease?

The Dublin City Coroner has released statistics on last year's drug deaths that have opponents to methadone crying for change. In the last 12 months, heroin caused 14 deaths and contributed to the deaths of a further 14. Methadone, a legal drug used therapeutically for heroin addicts, caused the death of 12 patients, and contributed to the deaths of a further 19.

Methadone can be given to heroin addicts, allowing them to switch painlessly from an intoxicating and dangerous addiction to heroin, to a controlled and non intoxicating addiction to methadone. Problematically, because methadone stays active within the body for longer than does heroin, the eventual withdrawal from methadone exceeds heroin in its severity and duration.

Critics fault a system that rewards Irish doctors financially for referrals into methadone clinics. Public health officials deny any wrongdoing, and call such allegations absurd.

The Public Health (HSE) defends Methadone Maintenance as a safe and effective therapy for heroin addicts, and funds programming in accordance with its belief in the efficacy of methadone maintenance. There are 9200 Dubliners on Methadone, and only 23 funded detoxification treatment beds.

Mel MacGiobuin, Director of the North Inner City Local Drugs Taskforce, explains that in his experience, a typical methadone patient takes between 8 and 9 years to detox off of the methadone successfully. He speculates that due to Dublin's reliance on drug substitution programs over therapy and treatment, the city could face real problems should another form of drug become widely used.

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