I was on methadone three different times, in three separate cities. I think that people misunderstand the purpose methadone serves when they argue that it does not “cure” the addiction. Originally, the goal of the methadone program was to reduce crime and negative social behaviors associated with heroin addiction. When I first turned to methadone, I was not trying to “cure” my addiction either. I was trying to stabilize my life, and manage my addiction that had sent it spiraling out of control.
The theory behind methadone is great, but I think that the treatment often falls short in its practice. The idea behind methadone is to get users stabilized, so that they can begin to work on improving their lives. The ultimate goal behind methadone treatment is to eventually wean the patients off the drug, once their lives have been stabilized and secured.
But, this is not what they told me at the clinic. Instead, they compared methadone to insulin, stating that some people will need it forever to function normally. While I do realize that some people will need methadone for the rest of their lives, I am thankful today that I am not one of those. I will also argue that many people on methadone will not need it for the rest of their lives, but they will need it until they are ready.
I could shoot a million holes in the comparison of methadone to insulin that is frequently used in a methadone clinic. I could say that a diabetic without insulin will die, but an addict without any treatment could also die. I could say that a diabetic has a chronic disease that will have to be managed for the rest of their life, but then I could say the same about an addict. But, I cannot say that diabetes can be overcome with surrender and the 12 steps, and I also cannot say that methadone is the same lifeline that insulin is.
The methadone works to stabilizes the patient, by eradicating the symptoms of withdrawal and reducing the craving for opiates. For me, to reduce the craving for opiates, I had to feel high. So, my methadone did get me high when I finally got to a dose that “stabilized” me.
I craved opiates whenever I was not high. When you have been using everyday for a number of years, you do crave the high. You want the high. You need the high. I think the misconception is that the addict only needs to be kept out of withdrawal to become “stabilized.” It is much, much more than that. I also think that many people have the misconception that an addict will stop craving opiates when he is not in withdrawal, but it is not that simple. I still get cravings sometimes, even six years after being completely clean. I just react differently to those cravings today.
I think that today too many methadone clinics are run more like a moneymaking opportunity than a recovery center. More like the street dealer, they take money for the drugs all day long, handing them out to the qualified customer without really caring for their welfare. Too many clinics have 12 nurses with six dosing windows, but only a handful of counselors. Too many clinics tell their patients that methadone for an addict is like insulin for a diabetic, and not enough of these places tell the addict’s they can one day be completely opiate-free.
The counseling often really falls short in a methadone clinic, or at least that was my experience. It is an easier task to try to stabilize these addicts, but the difficult part is putting their lives back together. Counseling and group therapy can really give them the tools to begin to rebuild their lives. Too often, the counseling in the methadone clinic is questionable at best. Of the three clinics I attended, one of them had an excellent counseling program with a wonderful staff. The other two were pathetic. Tomorrow’s post will delve into that more.
An addict will not get clean until they are ready. And there is nothing anyone can do about that. When I got on methadone, I was not ready to get clean. But I was ready to change something. And I took that first step. Although the methadone program falls short in so many areas, it did provide the first little baby steps I needed to even be able to see that recovery was possible.