DRUG addicts in Scotland are more likely than their English counterparts to receive the heroin substitute methadone, with doctors prescribing double the amount north of the border.
Nearly 500,000 prescriptions were written out last year – working out at 96 per 1,000 of the population – costing the taxpayer £16 million.
New figures revealed that the average rate in England was 48 per 1,000 people.
Around 22,000 people in Scotland are on heroin substitutes, compared to 153,000 in England.
The news comes following repeated SNP assurances that they are committed to weaning addicts off the substitute.
Critics fear this could mean that users are being put on the drug indefinitely, and are simply replacing one addiction for another.
Peter McCann, chairman of the Castle Craig Hospital for alcoholism and drug addiction in the Borders, said: “If doctors continue to prescribe methadone at the rates we’re seeing addicts will never get better.
“These people will age prematurely and require tax-payer funded permanent care for the rest of their lives.
“This is a time bomb waiting to go off.”
Each drug addict costs the economy an estimated £60,000 a year on health care, crime and social costs, adding up to a total bill of £3.5 billion for Scotland.
John Lamont, Tory justice spokesman, said: “There will always be a place for methadone but far too many people are not being allowed to break free from it.
“We have to expand the range of rehabilitation services on offer and move much more quickly towards abstinence and recovery.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The underpinning principle of our national drugs strategy, the Road to Recovery, is that people with drug problems are able to access services and support to help them recover and move on from their drug problems.
“Methadone may be part of the process but as one element of an integrated care, treatment and recovery plan.
“It is not, on its own, enough.
“There are national guidelines which clinicians must take account of when prescribing such treatments.”