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The convoluted mess of Methadone and stigma

One week ago today, a tragedy occurred when Robin Gardner was killed in a head on collision. The man accused of manslaughter in this case admitted to being under the influence, texting and had been at a methadone clinic.

Let me be clear: The death of Robin Gardner is tragic, period. There is no defense for texting while driving.

This terrible loss is far from the first time that questions have been raised regarding the safety of driving while under the influence of Methadone. Addiction professionals in Maine have been raising this point to state officials for well over a decade. It has yet to be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

The issues surrounding safe driving and prescribed medications are so convoluted it can only been viewed as a mess. Here’s the rub: While we have every reason to be concerned over folks driving under the influence, we do not have reason to be concerned about the efficacy of Opiate Replacement Therapy (using Methadone, Suboxone and other medications to break free of addiction).

Everything we’ve been generating in research for many years now consistently demonstrates that Opiate Replacement Therapy is the most effective route to break free of addiction. One does not need to agree that it is a desirable route, only recognize that it is objective fact that for many, it is effective.

I support all pathways to recovery. I am not at all interested in debating whether Methadone or Suboxone is beneficial. A wealth of research proves it to be. This is an important issue that divides us and it’s a topic lots of folks are misinformed about. Ideally, we will come to focus on what unites us, which ought to be combatting addiction in our communities.

That is why I am so troubled by the statement Penobscot County District Attorney Chris Almy made in a recent interview with WLBZ:

“People using these so called treatment drugs feel as if they’re all set to go, no problems, that’s just not true…”

I expect far more from an elected leader than a sweeping generalization that is demonstrably untrue. This is a terribly stigmatizing statement that puts all people using Methadone, Suboxone, Vivitrol and a plethora of other medications (a very diverse group) into a single category, with the same needs, same struggles, perspectives, beliefs, and values. It is a statement that can only be made in ignorance of both addiction and addiction recovery treatment.

To refer to Methadone as a “so called treatment drug” flies in the face of what nearly all respected medical and addiction professionals have consistently demonstrated to be true.

Maine citizens have a right to expect that elected officials address our opiate epidemic armed with objective facts and at least a cursory understanding of what research has brought to bear. The position that medications like Methadone are effective in overcoming addiction is not a matter of opinion, it is simply a fact.

It remains the responsibility of our state and federal government to resolve issues around what constitutes impaired driving with all prescribed substances. It is the responsibility of all citizens to promote addiction recovery.

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