'Game-changer' drug to tackle addiction

By Lorna Gordon
BBC News Scotland correspondent

  • Published
Image caption,
Dougie said he would have died if he had not changed his ways

For more than 20 years, Dougie's life was a vicious cycle of drugs, crime and the death of people close to him. But for the past nine months he has been taking a medication that blocks his craving for heroin and helps him break the cycle.

Drug misuse has claimed the lives of Dougie's brother, two uncles and more than a dozen friends.

And two years ago he lost a leg due to health complications related to his addiction.

"If I hadn't stopped I would have died, simple," he says.

"I don't think my mum would survive losing another boy through drugs."

The 39-year-old Glaswegian has been in and out of prison since he was a teenager, stealing to fund his dependence on heroin and street Valium.

But since the start of the year he has been prescribed Buvidal, a new development in the treatment of addiction to opiates.

Image caption,
The Buvidal injection is given once a month

Dougie says it has been "life changing".

He was previously taking the opiate substitute methadone but it was not working for him.

"I tried this new drug and it managed to get me clean off methadone and clean off heroin," he says.

More than 100 people in Glasgow are now being prescribed the drug, which is injected once a month, meaning those using it no longer need to visit chemists to pick up methadone prescriptions every day.

It is hoped this will allow patients to focus on improving their lives and overall health rather than managing their dependence.

Image caption,
Scotland's drug deaths figures are the worst in Europe

Scotland, and especially cities such as Glasgow and Dundee, has the worst rate of drug misuse deaths in western Europe.

It is not known how many people died from overdoses in Scotland last year as the figures have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the figures for 2018 showed almost 1,200 people dying from drug misuse, more than three people every day.

Experts say they think the figures for last year could be even higher.

In response to the crisis, a pilot programme for Buvidal was launched with 14 patients in Glasgow last year.

It found that more than six months after the trial, all of them remained engaged in recovery.

Jennifer Kelly, a prescribing pharmacist for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde's alcohol and drug recovery services, said feedback has been "overwhelmingly positive".

She said Buvidal blocks the opioid receptors in the brain which stops the patients having withdrawals and allows them to be comfortable.

Ms Kelly said it works best for patients committed to moving away from opioid use.

It allows patients to engage with the services they need such as occupational therapy, mental health and social services, she said.

"For our patients it's been a game-changer," she said.

"Their lives have improved in many ways, less drug use, better interaction with their families, with their children.

"It's not a case of they go on it and they are on it forever, which is sometimes an issue that people throw at methadone. We have managed to detox a number of patients from Buvidal."

Image caption,
Buvidal is being prescribed to 100 people in Glasgow

Dougie says the drug has "changed the way I'm ticking".

"I've got a better relationship with my mum and dad whereas when I was doing drugs they wouldn't open the door," he said.

He said the first few weeks coming off methadone were hard because of the withdrawal effects.

"Now that I am free of methadone, the plan is to wean myself off Buvidal and then stay totally clean but that is easier said than done," he said.

"I wish it had been around 20-odd years ago, it would have saved so many lives."

Dougie said he wanted to convince his friends it is better than methadone.

"But a lot of my lads are scared," he says. "How are you meant to change that mindset?"

According to Dougie one of the advantages over methadone is not having to go to the pharmacy every day and risk contact with other users or sellers.

And for the future he says he wants to go back to college to learn the maths and English he missed in his youth.

"I don't want to start that lifestyle being a user everyday, chaotic," he said.

"I don't want that life any more. I have been there, it doesn't work."

Experts are wary of words like "miracle drug" and warn that Buvidal is not suitable for everyone.

But it is already helping to fix some broken lives and they want that to continue.