Ms Higgins, a former drug user, had been taking Methadone for several years and, having recently had a leg amputated was also being prescribed Codeine to deal with the pain. Despite the fact that recovery from such a traumatic medical procedure is likely to cause a great deal of pain and, often, confusion, Ms Higgin’ GP was supplying her with a week’s worth of both the Methadone and the Codeine at a time and, it is thought that it was this combination of pain and confusion that led to the accidental overdose.
Since Ms Higgins’ death, there have been a number of calls for an overhaul in the way prescription medicines - particularly the more potent ones - are doled out to patients. Leading a campaign in Cumbria is Nicola Alderton, whose 19 year old daughter, Beatrice, died after being given Methadone on a night out.
Methadone is a synthetic opiate originally created as a painkiller but, these days, used most commonly to help treat heroin addicts. The drug produces similar effects to heroin but without the ‘high’ and is considered an effective replacement treatment. As a treatment for addiction, it’s recommended that users are prescribed a small dosage over a short amount of time until withdrawal symptoms abate and abstinence is achieved, however, in many cases like Ms Higgins’, Methadone is continually prescribed for several years, therefore just replacing one addiction with another.
The average daily dosage of Methadone ranges between 40mg and 80mg per day, depending on the patient. The officially recognised lethal Methadone dose is 25 mg for a non-tolerant adult rising to a possible 200 mg dose for a regular user. This means that even a patient on a low dose of Methadone is given enough of the medicine to cause death when given a 7 day prescription.
Between 2007 and 2012, there were 2366 recorded deaths in the UK caused by Methadone overdose with an estimated 180,000 drug addicts receiving treatment from the NHS every year.
As with many other criticisms, the NHS responds by citing time and staff limitations - the current process means a maximum of one appointment per week for Methadone patients, saving time and resources. General Practitioners spend between 8 and 10 minutes with each patient during an appointment whether for an ear infection or something more serious and, many concerned relatives of Methadone patients feel that this is not a sufficient amount of time for a doctor to gauge a patient’s state of mind and personal circumstances before then prescribing a potentially fatal amount of medicine. Although it is stated that Methadone is taken under supervision, this is generally Monday to Friday leaving patients with an unsupervised dosage for weekends which sometimes finds itself being misused or even being sold.
Campaigner, Nicola Alderton, believes that a drug as potent as Methadone should only be taken within a clinical environment, both for the safety of patients and to prevent the medicine falling into the wrong hands.
Organisations such as Serenity Health believe that the high numbers of Methadone prescriptions in this country is simply a way for the NHS to improve the UKs drug statistics - by switching addicts from street drugs to Methadone, they are able to manipulate the numbers to show that patients are ‘off drugs’ and therefore call it a success story. Although not entirely dismissing the use of Methadone, Serenity Health believes that, rather than simply doling out drugs, Serenity Health believes that true rehabilitation can only be achieved through a combination of therapy, medication and lifestyle changes in order to treat the cause as well as the effect of addiction. Not just a ‘quick fix’ which, in many cases, sees addicts quickly revert back to their original addiction, a comprehensive treatment program will include:
- Detoxification - Cleansing the patient’s body of the harmful substance.
- Personalised therapies to uncover the root of the problem including any underlying or undiagnosed health issues which may be contributing factors.
- Integrated therapies including recognising the triggers that lead to addictive behaviour and learning how to turn negative thoughts into positive ones.
- Kindness - It’s essential that a patient is treated in a safe and non-judgemental environment where they are free to express their thoughts and concerns.
Serenity Health’s way does, of course, involve a substantially greater time commitment than eight minutes per week but, with almost 2,500 drug related deaths in the UK every year, feels that it is time well spent.
For more information on Serenity Health visit: https://www.rehabclinic.org.uk/
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