New legislation could curb methadone access

    The prescription drug methadone helps addicts kick the habit, but some Pennsylvania state senators says the treatment itself has become a habit for too many patients.

    The prescription drug methadone helps addicts kick the habit, but some Pennsylvania state senators says the treatment itself has become a habit for too many patients.
    (Photo: smallritual/Flickr

    Methadone treatment helps curb cravings and drug-seeking behavior when addicts are trying to give up oxycontin or other opioids.

    State Senator Kim Ward wants an audit of Pennsylvania’s spending on methadone treatment. Her proposal also requires providers to map out a one-year narcotic treatment plan for patients.

    Ward: … with an additional six months of treatment, if a person is progressing toward recovery. There will be no more open-ended taxpayer funded maintenance. Our goal would be to have folks recover and not just maintain.

    Arthur Evans leads Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health. He says some drug users have long and severe addictions that require several years of methadone support. Others patients, he says, can move off the medication in a year or two.

    Either way Evans said the decision should be left in the hands of health providers, not directed by lawmakers.

    Ward says methadone is supposed to help addicts.

    Ward: It provides a benefit to the community at large if that happens, but instead we have been having maintenance, instead of recovery as an everyday occurrence. It has become a drug of choice, we have traded an illegal substance, heroin, for a legal synthetic narcotic.

    Temple University drug treatment researcher David Zanis says methadone therapy should be combined with psycho-social support. He says patients often get little counseling to make a lasting transition to recovery.

    Philadelphia Democrat state Senator Michael Stack supports the proposal to tighten the rules for methadone.

    Stack: It helps withdrawal symptoms for folks trying to recover from opiate addiction, but the drug relieving effects wear off before the drug leaves the body. So it’s easy for addicts to crave more. And when they can’t get more at a treatment center they find it on the street, cheap.

    Stack wants to track methadone-related deaths, car crashes and other incidents.

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