The Office for National Statistics have recently published figures for drug-related deaths and although those for heroin show a marked decline, somewhat bizarrely those connected to the so-called treatment have rocketed. The 2011 figures for heroin or morphine overdoses were 596, compared to 791 in 2010. In 2008 there were nearly 900.
According to the ONS, these figures reflect a reduction in the total number of hard drug users in the UK, together with a 'heroin-drought'. This shortage, caused mostly by poor weather conditions in Pakistan and disruption of supplies from Afghanistan, has led to heroin supplies drying up on the street and made finding any of high quality extremely difficult.
Conversely, if the disease is not killing people, the treatment certainly is. Methadone deaths have risen from 355 in 2010 to 486 in 2011. It will be recalled that the Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr Clare Gerada, recently re-assured Russell Brand in his tv documentary that methadone prescribing was 'the gold standard' in drug treatment. In reality it's just a cheap treatment option and many people tell me much harder to withdraw from than heroin.
As an aside, I found it fascinating how the discovery of the substance came about in 1937 as a result of a German military search for an opiate substitute. It will be noted that they decided not to use the substance due to the significant number and character of side-effects, a situation confirmed to me on a regular basis by current users.
PS Since publishing the above, I've been looking around further on the subject and found this response to an article in the British Medical Journal from 2009. In addition to highlighting just how dangerous methadone is, the author mentions something I was loathe to as possibly being in bad taste. They ponder the possible perverse incentive of such a treatment policy "as death is without doubt a drug free state."