Stopping Stigma: What It Will Take to Re-Integrate Recovered Addicts
Advocacy Despite a successful track record, a negative perception of methadone treatment and its patients continues to pervade, creating an unnecessary obstacle for former addicts.
Methadone treatment was developed over five decades ago. Since the beginning, the treatment, professionals and in particular the patients themselves have faced an increasing stigma. This includes sensationalized and distorted media, social institutions, medical care and every type of social relationship including friends and family.
Recent research has confirmed that an opioid use disorder is perceived as a moral failure rather than a medical disorder and the public does not support funding for research or treatment. Even more harmful is that the public supports the loss of civil rights of former addicts and MAT patients to the extent of denying them employment.
"Stigma will not be resolved until the misunderstandings about opiate use disorder and its treatment are addressed, confronted and clarified."
Language is essential to the spread of stigma. The term substitution creates the assumption that methadone is equal to heroin or other illicitly used opiates and therefore has euphoric effects. This blurs the true pharmacological profile of methadone. Methadone patients are commonly called “methadonians” further alienating them from the human race.
Reasons to believe
Evaluations from the beginning of methadone treatment have shown lifelong benefits for patients and society and demonstrate the ability of patients to function in any capacity for which they are qualified. In some studies the patients performed better than the control group. Other research has that every dollar invested in methadone treatment yields $38 in economic benefits to society with less crime and greater employment.
The stigma that patients experience is hardly supportive to rehabilitation and yet the majority of have proven themselves capable and successful in the practical world, as lawyers and waitresses, construction workers and housewives, teachers and cab drivers. Stigma will not be resolved until the misunderstandings about opiate use disorder and its treatment are addressed, confronted and clarified. For quality methadone and buprenorphine treatment to flourish it will be necessary to confront and reverse this negative influence.