Methadone – Last Not First

By: Ross Goodridge, Sydney, Australia
This year I published a paper entitled “The Methadone Conspiracy – Can Addicts Sue?”, highlighting the fact that Australia currently has approximately 24,000 people on long-term methadone maintenance programs. Patients receive daily methadone, which is ultimately supplied by the Federal Government of Australia. The methadone is often provided without any attempt to control long-term use or to restrict the addict’s use of other illicit drugs. Most methadone is provided by way of “take-away doses,” and thus an estimated 29 percent of methadone in Australia is re-sold on the black market. Methadone has become a substantial primary drug of addiction.
Methadone is a synthetic opiate, developed in Nazi Germany in 1941, in an attempt to replicate heroin for relief of pain. Methadone acts upon the body in a manner very similar to heroin, attaching to the same brain receptors and creating euphoria by the same chemical process.
In Australia, like most western countries, there are often many views expressed as to how society should deal with illicit drug users. There are those who promote a tougher on drugs policy, while others promote legalisation.
Since releasing “The Methadone Conspiracy,” I have personally attracted much criticism by those who promote legalisation. They believe that narcotics should be available either freely or by prescription. They already have one drug available on this basis – methadone.
On receipt of this criticism I posed the question for myself, “Can methadone maintenance be considered a successful drug treatment program?”
The starting point in answering this question is, “What is meant by success?”
If one starts with the position that no drug addict will ever be cured, and there is no point in trying, then I suppose it could be considered a success to provide clinically pure amounts of narcotic each day to that addict each day. This will provide lower risk of harm to the addict of HIV infection, criminal behaviour, etc.
From my prospective, I cannot, and do not, accept that the best outcome that can ever be achieved for any one addict is a lifetime of addiction.
Australia has a rapidly rising number of drug addicts, a rapidly rising number of methadone addicts, and rapidly rising crime. Australia’s prisons are over-flowing, and it is estimated that 80 percent of all prisoners have a drug addiction, which was a cause of their criminal behaviour. The direction must be changed.
Methadone programs do little to reduce the demand for heroin. An estimated 72 percent of people on long-term high dose methadone programs are also frequent heroin users.
Methadone addicts regularly sell part of their take-away doses in order to obtain money for heroin purchase.
Trading in methadone occurs directly outside of the methadone clinics in Australia.
Nobody involved in the field can be unaware of this fact; it is obvious and patent.
Heroin addicts buy methadone because one “done” (usually 20 or 40 millilitres), will help sustain a heroin addict until he or she can buy more heroin. Teenagers use methadone because of a perception that it is a “safe drug.” It is less daunting to take a sip than it is to inject, and teenagers experiment with methadone as a first drug.
Notwithstanding that there are now over 24,000 long-term methadone addicts in Australia, the Government does not offer any programs to help people overcome their methadone addiction. Drug addicts are placed in jail or given free drugs, and historically almost no funds are available to overcome drug addiction!
I am not opposed to methadone per se. I am opposed to methadone as the first and only option provided to people who would otherwise achieve abstinence.
Ross Goodridge is a senior Barrister-at-Law practising in Sydney, Australia. He is credited with the Australian introduction of Drug Courts and was responsible for the endorsement of Drug Courts by the AMA, most political parties and the broad community. Mr. Goodridge has been a keynote speaker at a number of conferences and an active supporter of the Australian Cities Against Drugs movement.

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