Fresh claims by national newspapers that pharmacists are "cashing in" on methadone addicts could deter patients from using the service, Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) has warned.
The Daily Record and the Scottish Express accused Scottish pharmacists of "raking in millions" from "controversial" methadone treatments that fail to wean patients off the drug. The Scottish government had earmarked £19 million to pay pharmacists who delivered the service in 2012, the newspapers claimed on Monday (May 19). £18.5m was paid to pharmacists in methadone fees between April 2012 and March 2013, according to figures from ISD Scotland.
CPS policy and development pharmacist Mark Feeney said the press coverage would stigmatise patients and contribute to the falling number of addicts entering treatment for addiction.
The press coverage of methadone treatments could stigmatise patients and discourage them from seeking treatment, warns Scottish negotiator CPS
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"The way they've portrayed pharmacists is totally unfair but the real victims are patients, who have been discouraged from accessing treatment," Mr Feeney told C+D. "Opiate replacement therapy was reviewed [by the government] last year, partly in response to media pressure. I don't think it needs to be revisited," he added.
In 2012, pharmacy leaders hit back at claims by Labour MSP Jenny Marra that some pharmacists were "methadone millionaires" profiting from recovering addicts at taxpayers' expense.
Neeraj Salwan, owner of Reach Pharmacy Group, said there was a stigma attached to the service because it was an "easy target" for the media.
"There are real problems that lead to addiction. You have to deal with those issues before you say pharmacies are cashing in," he told C+D.
Contractor Fiona McElrea, of Whithorn Pharmacy in Wigtownshire, said the effectiveness of methadone services should be looked at, rather than how much pharmacies were reimbursed for delivering it.
"The methadone scheme is really a maintenance programme now. It was originally designed for patients to reduce their dose and eventually come off [the drug], but that doesn't happen any more," she told C+D
"We're certainly not cashing in. It's time-consuming to make up, dispense and supervise methadone. It takes you away from other roles in the pharmacy," she added.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society director for Scotland Alex MacKinnon said it was "completely unacceptable" for the media to attack pharmacists for delivering an NHS service to "the most vulnerable patients".
"Community pharmacists would welcome an increased role in detoxification of patients but this requires a multidisciplinary approach supported by health and social care colleagues as well as partners in the third sector," he said.
Have you noticed a drop in the number of addicts using methadone services?