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Methadone Patients Against Hysteria And Further Restrictions

This article was posted on March 3, 2008. I just came across it. I’m not sure who wrote it but I thought it would be good to post it here.

Although Prohibition ended 70 years ago, a new agenda of temperance is alive and well and growing at an incredible rate. With the advent of the Internet the development of new citizen groups loosely modeled after “Mothers Against Drunk Driving” we find methadone maintenance, highly structured with almost 50 years of proven efficacy, at the center of a new decade. In the media and online a lot of scary claims are being thrown around. The most dangerous of these are not those that are false: we who are reliant on methadone assisted treatment are quick to debunk those. Rather, the dangerous ones are those that are true or partially true when there is no research clearly showing the cause and effect and that’s being implied.

These groups are hell bent on perpetuating the myth that methadone is “trading one addiction for another” or that it’s a “number 2 killer” all the while portraying the professional working men and women who have found a new life thanks to the availability of methadone maintenance programs as people who use your tax dollars to feed their addictions ans support their immoral lifestyles. They paint a picture of uneducated, mentally unstable street thugs driving recklessly between the clinic and the ghetto, robbing little old ladies and running over unsuspecting school children, a trail of dead bodies in their wake.

No one escapes their judgmental criticism. The doctors and clinicians are no better than the evil street pusher, derelict doctors out for money randomly give away free drugs at ridiculously high doses, supplying the community with such a glut of free methadone that it’s almost forced upon the young innocent children in our communities. How else can these people come to terms with the thought that their loved ones may have had some responsibility in their own death?

This newest group, HARMD (“Helping America Reduce Methadone Deaths”) is fueled by anger and grief. Their apparent spokesperson, Melissa Zuppardi, constantly makes misleading statements about the number of people killed in methadone related deaths in an apparent effort to exaggerate the extent of the problem and enhance fundraising and legislative lobbying efforts. There is simply no legitimate reason to insist fasly that methadone related deaths are a growing epidemic. In many of these cases methadone is a scapegoated, pointed to as the “cause” of death regardless of what other drugs or factors exist.

Methadone maintenance treatment gives those of us who have struggled with opiate and heroin addiction a fighting chance to take our lives back. Some stay on maintenance for the rest of their lives. Others slowly titrate down after years, even decades, of treatment. Studies done by Dr. Kreek and others have shown that methadone heals damage done by heroin use and when taken over the long term can reinstate endorphin function making it an ideal medicine for some. There is, unfortunately, never a shortage of people in this world who are just “out for a high” and these few who continue to take illicit drugs and drink alcohol while participating in a methadone program unfortunately give methadone a bad name. Addiction knows no class boundaries, and just as thee are the “invisible” patients that hold professional jobs, there are also those that go to clinic who struggle with mental health issues, and some, especially in the inner cities that are homeless. No, methadone patients are not all boy scouts or always the best of citizens, but most are good people who deserve to use a medication that has worked for us and many before us.

Another popular misconception is the idea that long term addicts on a maintenance dose are “getting high.” To an opiate tolerant person there is no “high” whatsoever when maintained on a therapeutic dose of methadone, regardless of the “number” of milligrams. There is the relief and feeling of well being that is the benefit of being released from the grips of craving illicit opiates; and for most that is the best feeling one could wish for. For the first time in our lives we are released from the grip of addiction, and we are able to function in society, accomplish things in our lives, be there for other people and not be enslaved to addiction. It’s the same state that for most folks comes naturally: for us feeling normal is almost a kind of “high” – some of us haven’t felt normal in years.

Granted, methadone is NOT for everyone. Just because it dosen’t work for you, or because someone wasn’t careful doesn’t mean you have to put all your energy into a senseless War On Drugs, putting MORE restrictions on a drug that people are using to save their lives with. Neo-prohibition is NOT the answer. Putting the spot-light on the minority of MAT patients that fit the stereotypes only helps to perpetuate the stigma and is misleading. We are also lawyers, teachers, students and every day working people. We benefit in reducing heroin abuse and its medical psychosocial complications, it is medically safe to use on a long-term basis, and may have broad benefits for the disrupted biology that is associated with heroin abuse. Do not buy the fake science, pumped up statistics and misleading rhetoric of these groups. Stricter laws will only make treatment less accessible, more lives will be lost, and those loved ones we all have lost will not be brought back.

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  1. November 23, 2008 at 6:38 am

    What a refreshingly intelligent & honest expression regarding the chaos that has occurred in the past few years. It appears in the wake of the CSAT meeting on September 23rd with methadone advocacy groups & HARMD that there has been a sort of “truce” between the 2 groups. This has done nothing more than divide the latter party with what appears to be a feud in the anti methadone community between those who want Methadone banned and those who want the system changed. The group MAMA.org (and those who agree with her) is quickly becoming the “relative at the reunion that is embarrassing and loud yet still part of the family so you try to distance yourself from them without disowning them altogether LOL” I believe and sincerely hope that HARMD & its members have realized it is much better to work with us than against us in the fight to prevent Methadone related deaths. While we may always have differences in “how” to achieve this I believe we can all agree this should be the common goal between the 2 groups.
    There is however another group whose deaths are not being discussed. The deaths of those who are too afraid of enduring the stigma created by the anti methadone groups as well as those in society who have believed the myths & untruths told by them. The deaths of those who passed away from overdoses because they were on waiting lists to get into clinics that were filled to capacity & beyond. Yet, each time a new clinic was planned to move in and relieve some of the patient load it was met with a community of residents in fear. This fear was created by an image the anti methadone groups & the media had made. It is sad to me that these deaths don’t count. Comments such as “They were merely addicts”, “ They would have died anyway if they had went to a Methadone clinic” &“Those that have the audacity to say they were saved by Methadone are doing so only to prolong their legal fix” have served to fuel the fight between the 2 groups. This sort of thinking must be eliminated in order to move forward. In contrast, I believe whenever one argues in favor of Methadone it is viewed by many as supporting the very instrument that cost them their loved one therefore somehow justifying their death. Much has been said on both sides of this issue that has hurt, and harmed. All of this has taken the focus away from what the goal should be….Saving lives. I have seen reports lately where “Methadone Related” deaths have decreased in some areas but I wonder if Heroin or other opiate related deaths have increased. Inversely proportionate statistics helps no one. Whether the death occurs as the result of a lack of available treatment, avoiding treatment r/t societal stigma or diverted Methadone it is still an avoidable loss. I just wish this could be the future focus of both groups efforts. I guess only time will tell.

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