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Columnist: Methadone not the answer for Eastern Maine’s addicts – The Maine Campus

Columnist: Methadone not the answer for Eastern Maine’s addicts – The Maine Campus.

Columnist: Methadone not the answer for Eastern Maine’s addicts

It is estimated that close to 10 percent of the Bangor population abuse illicit drugs, not including marijuana. More Mainers die annually from drug overdoses than car accidents. If these statistics surprise you, you’re not alone.

So, what can be done for people trapped in these horrible addictions?

When I’m not in class, doing homework or trying to figure out something to write in this column, I work at the Derek House — a traditional drug and alcoholism rehabilitation center in Bangor. It is a nine-month program that includes group therapy, individual counseling, life skills teaching, coping strategy classes and of course, the message of total abstinence from addictive substances.

This form of treatment is not bulletproof, but if clients take it seriously and really work toward their sobriety, it can be profoundly effective.

There is a radically different form of treatment available and it has government approval despite strong opposition from some traditional rehab clinics like the Derek House. It’s called drug replacement therapy, and it does more harm than good.

Instead of helping addicts get off drugs by helping them get off drugs, this new “treatment” helps addicts get off illegal drugs by getting them hooked on legal drugs. The most common example of this is methadone, a synthetic opioid given to abusers of heroin and other opiates. Because it affects the same brain receptors, methadone easily replaces their addiction to illicit drugs with an addiction to methadone, which is more potent than street drugs and has stronger withdrawal symptoms.

Bangor has three methadone clinics that treat about 1,300 people daily. I believe the people who oversee these clinics honestly think they are helping addicts. But the evidence doesn’t show that. According to the director of Addiction Treatment Services at Bangor’s largest methadone clinic, Brent Scobie, about half of their 650 methadone patients have been on the treatment for more than five years.

Many patients are in the process of tapering off, but without new coping mechanisms and a support network, it seems impossible for a methadone user to stay clean. And few do, as shown by the low rates of those who become drug free through methadone treatments. Most methadone clinics mandate attendance at addiction classes, but I wonder about the effectiveness of these classes when the students are all high on methadone.

A rational person has to wonder if the methadone users are just taking advantage of a free, legal high. Why is it free? For those without money and private insurance, which is most drug addicts, taxpayer-funded MaineCare picks up the methadone tab — about $80 a dose.

Methadone is supposed to cut down on drug trafficking and crime, but after a year, most clinics allow their patients to take home seven doses a week. Once out of the clinic, the drug is often sold and abused. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, deaths by methadone overdose rose 390 percent between 1999 and 2004 and continue to climb.

Despite methadone clinics’ best efforts, if you give drugs to addicts, they will find a way to abuse them. Their brains have been rewired by their chemical dependence. The addiction community has known this for decades, but it’s something that drug replacement therapy seems to ignore.

In its current form, the system is too easy to abuse — not only by the patients but by the providers who could make a lot of money off the pricey treatment. Despite its widespread acceptance, this fake therapy with deceptive results is not good for the addicts it supposedly helps, and it’s a poor use of tax dollars. We must find a way to combat Maine’s drug abuse epidemic, but drug replacement is not the answer.

Tyler Francke thinks getting drug abusers addicted to “The Office” would be more effective and cheaper.

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  1. woodbutcher
    September 29, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    I have been on the clinic for a # of yrs now and tried to detox several times. It never worked for me. I am considering trying ibogaine if i try to detox again. but i dont know if at my age that is a good idea.Methadone was never intended for use with addicts that were still able to be detoxed and put in a 12 step or other abstinance based program. You mentoned that people are trying to get a free high from methadone . This is extreamly dangerous please stop. there is no high from methadone all it does is stop the cravings for heroin in some people.and works as a anelgeasic for moderate to low levels of pain.people overdose every day thinking they will get high on methadone . it does not work . they take more and more trying to get high and suffer from respitory failure.the NAOMI project in canada and several other related studies have now proven with out a doubt the best course of action for long term use opiate dependent people is methadone treatment if that fails then heroin or morphine maintnence has been now proven to be effective . for short term user’s the use of suboxone is preferred before going to abstinance based treatment’s . People are going to have to accept some people will never be free of opiate dependency and it is a treatable condition with proper medication and supervision from a doctor and substance abuse counselor . We have to stop this idea that abstinance will work for every one. it wont some people are just not strong enough to go that route and should not be ostrasized because of it.

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