Methadone … Cure or Curse?

During budget talks this year, there were intense arguments about funding of methadone clinics.

Opponents basically argued that clinics brought drug addicts, and other undesirables, into the neighborhood. Proponents said it kept addicts from using heroin.

Many of the calls I received came from Westfield residents who 1) educated me about methadone and 2) told me that the methadone clinic in this city had saved their lives.

The trade association for mental health workers came out soundly in favor of methadone treatment, citing former U. S. Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey's opinion that methadone can be critical for an addict's reentry into society and that restricting methadone would erect unnecessary barriers to recovery.

You might have thought heroin was a drug of the 60s or 70s. Well it's back and it's here with a vengeance. And heroin addiction is one of the hardest addictions to permanently kick. Right now heroin is readily available, plentiful, cheap (about $4 a dose) and pure.

Heroin gives users a euphoric rush and chronic users can crave the drug months, even years, after the last use.
Methadone, an FDA approved drug, is a long-acting synthetic opiate. Used in regular doses, methadone quells withdrawal and cravings, working to keep addicts off heroin.

Methadone, according to healthcare professionals, doesn't create euphoria or sedation, nor does it harm motor skills, mental ability, or employability.

And, if a patient decides to use heroin, methadone blocks the high that they are seeking.

Right now, some 12,000 people in Massachusetts are in methadone treatment at 32 different sites. Every site has a waiting list. The cost is about $4,500 per person per year (and half is funded by the Federal government).

Balance that cost with the cost of crime. Methadone reduces criminal behavior because patients don't have to finance the addiction with illegal activities. One national study found that criminal activity decreased by 52 percent for patients in methadone treatment.

And, methadone allows people to parent, work and take part in regular activities. Eventually they are slowly weaned from methadone.

Other things to consider:

Crime does not increase in an area that has a methadone clinic. Patients must consume the methadone, in liquid form, on site, to avoid resale. The average person is on methadone for two or three years.

Methadone is taken daily. The Federal government mandates that we provide transportation to the clinics.

Heroin addiction in the state has doubled in the past 10 years. Addicts tend to share needles, so methadone users receive health screenings (for AIDS and hepatitis C) as well as counseling.

In the end, when the budget was completed, methadone treatment centers were funded. The state's annual cost--$25-million dollars.

It was easy for me to support the line item. If we hadn't approved it, "It would be a living hell out there," as one addict explained. If we turned another 12,000 addicts out on the street, the cost would be much higher.

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