Doubts about doctors for addicts

Deputy Health Minister Marios Salmas yesterday hailed a state program aimed at authorizing doctors to issue methadone to recovering heroin addicts as a «landmark» in efforts to cut a five-year waiting list that includes more than 5,200 would-be patients. But certain members of a parliamentary committee for social affairs that debated the proposal yesterday expressed serious concerns that the program would be costly and might even be exploited by certain doctors for personal gain. Presenting the proposal in Parliament yesterday, Salmas said that doctors recruited to the program would have to undergo specialized training as well as expert assessment. As for the patients, they would first have to have completed at least six months in a rehabilitation unit before they can start receiving methadone from doctors. But some of the members of the committee had serious reservations. The first objection was the likely cost of the program. With some 2,000 addicts having undergone the required six months of rehab and ready to be inducted, at least 70 doctors will be needed at the outset, committee members said. According to Meni Malliori, professor emeritus at Athens University, the program and the doctors recruited for it should be subject to strict inspections. «It is well known that a number of illegal rehabilitation schemes are operating and the doctors involved in these will be the first to try and sign on to this program,» Malliori said. Marietta Giannakou, a New Democracy MEP and former education minister, proposed that doctors found to be on the take should be subject to serious punishment. «With similar programs in the Netherlands, 90 percent of the methadone wound up on the black market,» she said.