I Am Afraid of the Stigma Attached to Methadone; Should I Use It or Not?
When you have an opiate addiction, like prescription pain pills or heroin, you are aware that you aren’t making good choices. But, an addiction is a disease and it changes the way your brain works and creates an undeniable compulsion to continue using, despite what you know you should be doing or the adverse consequences of the substance use.
If you are able to finally reach a point where you are ready to reach out for help, it can be difficult to know which recovery path to take because there are so many of them. Do you want medication-assisted treatment or do you want to go 12-step? If you get medication maintenance, what kind do you want? It’s hard to decide.
In spite of the research demonstrating the positive results of methadone usage, there are multiple people, from friends and relatives to actual healthcare providers, who have nothing but disapproving opinions about its use. Methadone has a stigma, or negative association, that remains unescapable. These attitudes make a lot of people hesitant to accept medication-assisted treatment. If the stigma makes you nervous, the following discussion should give you some food for thought.
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What Stigma Is Attached to Methadone?
There is a prevalent school of thought that considers methadone a drug, and its use in treating addiction is thought of as replacing one addiction with another. People in programs that advocate complete abstinence, like 12-step programs, reject the use of methadone because it goes against their concept of “clean and sober.” However, a report in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment clarifies the opposing opinion by asserting people formerly addicted to opiates who use medication as part of their treatment and abstain from all other non-prescription drugs meet their definition of sobriety.
What Is the Negative Impact of the Stigma?
When people perceive medication-assisted treatment with methadone as another form of addiction, it creates a number of problems.
Firstly, patients experience that stigma from multiple sources and it makes them, like you, resistant to the treatment. In a survey of 111 physicians who prescribe methadone, 55 declared social stigma was the number one reason that patients refused to take the drug for treatment of their pain. And, that’s just for pain. When you add the stigma to the existing one for drug addiction, you increase the resistance to methadone. People fear developing another addiction, but they also fear people finding out and judging them.
Also, the negative attitudes directed at methadone use cause healthcare professionals to criticize patients who are using it as a form of addiction treatment. Physicians are rarely aware of what happens at methadone clinics of the positive outcomes associated with the medication’s use, which causes them look down upon it. Further, if they do consent to prescribe it, they rush patients off of it or they under prescribe. This means that methadone isn’t able to play the role that it should and it causes it to seem ineffective, which feeds into the stigma that methadone doesn’t work.
Is the Stigma Justified?
- A lessening of lethal overdose
- A lessening of suicide
- A lessening of illicit drug use
- A lessening of criminal activity
- A lessening of needle sharing
- A lessening of HIV infection and transmission
- A lessening of commercial sex work
- A lessening of reports of multiple sex partners
- An improvement in health conditions
- An improvement in productivity and social health
When used as directed, methadone is an excellent component of opiate addiction treatment and poses a low risk of addiction.