Editor’s Note: Today closes out our series on methadone by guest Grey Ryder, the pen name of a methadone activist and patient who blogs at aboutmethadone.com. Following on his overview of the drug’s history and discussion of its benefits, this piece looks at recent attempts to make access to methadone maintenance more difficult and costly in the name of “morality.”
Methadone’s success in reducing the harmful effects and behaviors associated with heroin addiction have led to its status as the “gold standard” in opiate addiction treatment. Despite the phenomenal success of methadone, and its proven track record over the past fifty years, it has made its share of enemies. Methadone’s foes, once a small group of people primarily concerned with keeping clinics out of their neighborhoods, have coalesced in to a major movement. They have allied with legislators to enact laws that are posing a very real threat to addiction treatment in this country.
“Disgusting and immoral” was how Senator John McCain described methadone in 1998. He was seeking support for his “Addiction Free Treatment Act” which would, among other things, cut off Medicaid payments for methadone after six months of treatment. His wife, Cindy, is an addict herself: she stole the painkillers she was addicted to from her own medical organization. McCain’s bill (which never became law) was followed by then New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s own crusade against methadone. Giuliani vowed to shut down New York’s methadone clinics, again describing the treatment as “immoral,” before finally reversing himself in the face of overwhelming criticism.
Methadone opponents across the country are ready to clamp down on treatment. Many methadone patients – perhaps the majority – are poor and on Medicaid. States have begun to target this population by cutting off tax dollars for their treatment.
It is true that methadone deaths have risen exponentially over the past several years, due to a massive increase in pain relief prescriptions.