Americans Don't See Method in Methadone

Americans Don’t See Method in Methadone

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Methadone is controversial business. While it might help a hopeless heroin addict kick a debilitating and deadly habit, it can easily be abused, turning the former opiate addict into a methadone junkie who fiends for their next dose at the clinic in a shady part of town.

Though some medical professionals believe opioid addicts who receive opiate replacement therapy with methadone or similar drugs like Suboxone have a much higher chance of recovery, it appears the American public disagrees.

More Dangerous Than Helpful

In a recent survey, the public opinion website YouGov asked 1,000 US adults what type of program they thought would be better for treating people who are addicted to heroin or similar opiate drugs. Half of those polled thought attendance at Narcotics Anonymous—in addition to a complete detox from all drugs—was a better approach, while 19 percent responded that using FDA-approved synthetic opiates under medical supervision was better. Thirty-two percent were not sure which approach was better.

YouGov also found that 40 percent of people polled believe synthetic drugs are more dangerous than helpful and the main thing is to get people off drugs entirely, even if that means recovery will be more difficult. Well, glad to know they sympathize with the plight of a heroin junkie trying to kick a vicious habit and the subsequently agonizing physical symptoms of sudden withdrawal that occur without opioid replacement therapy. Only 24 percent of folks believe the FDA-approved drugs are safer than heroin or pills bought on the street.

Not in My Backyard

And Americans have a decided “not-in-my-backyard” sentiment toward methadone clinics.

Only 8 percent said they wouldn’t mind having one around the corner, 18 percent said they’d feel somewhat comfortable, 28 percent admitted they’d feel very uncomfortable, and 16 percent were “unsure.”

The questions included in the poll could have been better phrased and certainly more to the point. Participants were asked whether they agreed with convoluted statements like “Synthetic drugs are more dangerous than helpful; it’s more important to get people off drugs entirely, even if that means recovery is more difficult” and “Synthetic drugs are more helpful than dangerous; the approved drugs are safer than heroin or pills bought on the street.” Couldn’t they have just asked whether people believe synthetic drugs are more dangerous than helpful?

Cure Worse Than the Disease?

So what does this survey mean for the unlucky heroin user trying to kick an insidious addiction? According to Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the best method for treating heroin addiction is medication combined with behavioral therapy. Medication administered under a doctor’s supervision helps eliminate the physical cravings that come with opiate addiction and the infamous withdrawal symptoms, which include muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, and kicking.

Having to endure this kind of physical agony, of course, makes would-be abstinent heroin users chronic relapsers. Obviously, a synthetic opiate replacement therapy could be tremendously beneficial.

The difficult question that remains is, Is the cure worse than the disease? It’s one the un-addicted public is not best qualified to answer.

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1 Comment

  1. In my opinion, Methadone is wrongly called “treatment.” I see it as a form of social control. Look at any article’s citations for how it is a “gold standard” that decreases crime, medical costs, etc. Also get and watch the documentary “Methadonia” on Netflix.

    The consequences of taking methadone at an increasingly higher dose to “stop” the impulsive use of heroin often means the person “stabilizes” on a very high dose. A daily intake of high dose methadone has repeatedly been difficult, if not impossible for many to get off of on a gradual taper because it’s an addictive substance with a half life about five times that of heroin.

    I believe this difficulty is from the withdrawal syndrome/post acute withdrawal the individual goes through even with a slow taper. Methadone supporters seem to have a medical model approach to addiction that ignores or discounts cognitive, psychological aspects of addiction. So they don’t give post acute withdrawal (PAW) the attention it needs with a methadone taper. The PAW symptoms that occur as methadone is out of the addict’s symptom leads to a mistaken belief that the person needs to remain on it longer, if not for life. If these symptoms are recognized as the typical PAW that addicts go through when coming off of Schedule II opioids (which methadone is) AND treated as such, there would be more people able to kick life-long methadone to the curb.

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Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.