Overcoming Stigma and Recognizing the Need for Methadone Maintenance

The stigma of methadone maintenance continues to have its place in society as an alternative option for opioid addicts not willing to put forth the efforts required to overcome their addiction, but, the fact remains that methadone maintenance treatment saves lives.

The Opioid Crisis

According to the CDC, “In 2014, 61% (28,647, data not shown) of drug overdose deaths involved some type of opioid, including heroin.” While unscrupulous doctors and higher prescribing, abuse, and diversions of opioid prescription painkillers contribute largely to overdoses, addictions, illnesses, diseases, and untimely deaths; heroin has made a comeback as a cheaper, more potently addictive and dangerous high. Findings show that heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013.

Opioid pain pill dependents, desperate to avoid opioid withdrawals, are switching to heroin to get more powerful highs with less money. Incidentally, parents may underestimate the availability and problems that prescription opioids can cause in children. In other findings, a recent Brandeis University, PDMP Center of Excellence reports that “there has been a steep rise in the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome, in which infants experience withdrawal effects as a result of opioid use by mothers during pregnancy.”

High Risk Populations

Overcoming Stigma

Many people consider the use of methadone to treat opioid abuse as replacing one addiction for another.

The numbers continue to climb with the serious risks an opioid dependent will go through to stave off daily withdrawals that far exceed those of nearly every other drug. Combining the stats with what appears to be never-ending crises of relevant problems including social disparities, crimes, destruction of families, medical, and societal burdens, it should not come as a surprise if someone close to you is affected in one way or another.

According to a report from Christopher M. Jones, PharmD, MPH at the CDC, high risk populations include:

  • People taking high daily doses of opioids
  • People who “doctor shop”
  • People using multiple abusable substances
  • Low-income people and those living in rural areas
  • People with substance abuse or other mental health issues
  • Men
  • Whites, American Indians/Alaska Natives
  • Middle-aged persons

To shed light on the issue, we must understand that attributing lack of willpower or immorality to any of these individuals who become addicted will have little influence in helping them overcome a disease that requires consistent management of symptoms and strategic coping skills to repair what has been broken and take back what has been lost.

Overcoming Stigma

Some would argue that because methadone is an opioid that can produce the same desirable effects as morphine and abused by a large number of individuals for whom and in ways other than intended, encouraging the use of methadone for an opioid addict is like encouraging an alcoholic to continue drinking alcohol. In a methadone maintenance program however, the use of methadone to stabilize the individual’s health and social functioning capabilities is enhanced by the steady state of methadone that, provided in appropriate amounts daily, doesn’t cause the euphoric or sedative effects that other opioids cause so they can focus on what’s important to improve their overall quality of life.

If you or someone you know is addicted to opioids, whatever they may be, don’t let stigmas fool you into believing that methadone maintenance will not help. Getting people well by stabilizing their physical and psychological functioning so they can safely drive, work, take care of their families, minimize long-term cravings, refrain from opioid abuse, and reduce the related dangers and behaviors; all while preventing them from overdosing and dying is the methadone maintenance outlook we should all adopt.

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