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Inmates face methadone curb

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 Inmates face methadone curb

Prisoners who are addicted to heroin are to have their methadone handouts restricted in an attempt to force them off the drug.

The move is the result of new guidance issued by health officials following criticism that methadone was being used as a means to control problem prisoners. Almost 20,000 inmates were put on the heroin substitute last year, a rise of 57 per cent on the previous year.

The new guidance admits that methadone has been over-prescribed in some cases. It points to concern that the prescribing of methadone is being started in jails without the required three-monthly review arrangements. As a result some prisoners may be kept on methadone longer than is clinically appropriate, it says.

The new guidance states that any offenders who are addicted to opiates and who are serving a sentence of six months of more should be actively encouraged to achieve abstinence while in prison.

“Many opiate users, particularly those with longer sentences, can be encouraged and supported to use their time in prison as an opportunity to achieve abstinence, and this option should be discussed and facilitated,” the guidance says.

It adds: “Prisoners should be made aware from the outset that, if they go on to receive a prison sentence of more than six months, they will be expected to work towards becoming drug-free.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The guidance allows for the full range of evidence-based drug treatments for medical experts to use with their patients. The update is to restate and reinforce the original guidance to take account of developments in the field, clarify expectations of prisoners and clinicians and reinforce good clinical practice.”

The new rules have been published just a week after reports revealing that prison doctors have been giving former heroin addicted prisoners doses of methadone prior to their release as a matter of routine.

The policy, known as ‘retoxification’, is allegedly designed to boost the tolerance of former addicts who are deemed likely to start using drugs on their release, to minimise the risk of them taking an overdose.

The revelation led critics to accuse the prison system of being complicit in ‘state sponsored’ drug dealing, and accused officials of giving up on tackling the issue of drug use and its links to criminal behaviour.

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