Who is LAC and why should we like it? For starters, LAC has come out strongly in support of methadone addiction treatment. LAC is the Legal Action Center, and its mission statement identifies it as the only non-profit law and policy organization in the country dedicated to fighting discrimination against those who suffer from addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal histories. LAC is an offshoot of the Vera Institute of Justice, organized in 1961 to partner with both civil and legislative leaders to improve the justice systems that we all depend upon.
Just a few months ago, LAC published Confronting an Epidemic: The Case for Eliminating Barriers to Medication-Assisted Treatment of Heroin and Opioid Addiction. If you’ve ever tried to get into a methadone program or if you knew someone who did, you understand how difficult it can be to find funding for treatment. Maybe you had the money to pay for methadone addiction treatment but there was a waiting list to get into the facility in your area. Or maybe you’ve just run up against the legal system: You’re ready for treatment, but you can’t fight your way out of the criminal justice jungle.
The Legal Action Center has listened when the government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) cites methadone addiction treatment as the single best way to overcome opioid or heroin addiction. Unfortunately, there are still too many people who look down on methadone therapy and scorn the people who choose it for a treatment option. Yet not only SAMHSA but the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recognize that medication-assisted therapy means higher retention rates for those who seek help. Dr. Nora Volkow of NIDA supports the use of methadone and Suboxone and insists that both medications constitute an import part of treatment. The Centers for Disease Control applauds efforts to overhaul the methadone delivery system because it saves lives.
The Legal Action Center tells us that the American heroin epidemic has risen to such epic proportions that drug overdoses lead all other causes of accidental death in this country. It used to be traffic fatalities, but now we have more than 36,000 drug overdose deaths per year. If you take all the deaths from all drugs except opioids, their total does not equal the number of deaths caused by opioids. Your time to try for methadone addiction treatment has come.
Hear the Happy Stories
There are sad, heart-tugging stories, of opiate treatment gone wrong, of people lost in the battle against addiction. But LAC shares some happy tales with us, as well. Take the story of Ian from Minneapolis, who walked into a doctor’s office five years ago and began medication-assisted treatment with Suboxone. There’s also an anonymous woman who achieved sobriety through methadone therapy and now lives a life rich with blessings, fulfilling her roles as a wife, mother, daughter, friend, and good citizen within her community. Or take the story of Nicole, who watched friends die from heroin overdoses, and she decided she wanted to live. Medication-assisted treatment changed her life.
LAC’s Advocacy for Methadone Addiction Treatment
But the Legal Action Center does more than tell happy stories. LAC is putting the word out that methadone addiction treatment, as well as treatment with Suboxone or Vivitrol, can be a lifeline to survival for people who would otherwise be dead and buried.
Medication-assisted treatment is cost effective, LAC insists. While too many people still bemoan the cost of funding treatment programs with taxpayer dollars, LAC tells us that illegal drug use costs Americans almost $200 billion per year because of lost time and productivity on the job, copays and deductibles for health care, and the price of putting someone through the legal system. Methadone treatment saves $38 for every dollar spent on other kinds of treatment. Is jail cheaper? Well, a year of methadone treatment costs an average of $4,700, but a year in prison costs $18,400.
LAC has gotten vocal against the insurance giants who are still refusing to pay for methadone addiction treatment. In fact, many of them have traditionally refused to pay for any kind of substance abuse treatment other than outpatient sessions. But if someone fails at outpatient and they want to go into residential treatment, or if they think they’ll do better on methadone addiction treatment, the insurance companies are still stubbornly refusing to pay up. They tell methadone programs or residential treatment centers that they are denying payment but the denial can be appealed—if providers send in the patients’ charts after treatment is completed. That means, of course, that these non-profit agencies are left holding a whole lot of empty bags.
LAC also has focused a strong spotlight on the criminal justice system. What about the people who are in legal trouble because of their addiction, and not because of any violent crime? Courts are arguing against methadone addiction treatment even though SAMHSA has recognized it as a more effective way of keeping people at work on their recovery. This is the courts’ main justification: If a person treats with methadone and then that person has to go to prison, they cannot receive methadone in that setting. However, there is no problem with switching them to Suboxone for use in prison, and so that old excuse is falling by the wayside. SAMHSA, in fact, is withholding government grant funds from drug courts that forbid methadone addiction treatment.
For those who continue to mainline heroin, LAC hopes to keep them safe by encouraging needle-exchange programs. We can stop the spread of hepatitis C and HIV that results directly from pain pill addiction if we take dirty needles out of the picture. LAC cites a CDC report that in the states with the highest incidences of hepatitis C, 73 percent of those cases involve needle heroin users.
Maybe you nod out every night and wake up sick in the cold light of dawn. Maybe you wake up in the sweltering heat of the afternoon, with the day half gone because you’re sleeping your life away. Maybe, like Nicole, you know people who won’t wake up at all, because their addiction will kill them.
Don’t let it be you. The people at LAC care. The people who work providing methadone addiction treatment care. Put your faith in the experts. Even if you have friends or family members who don’t believe in methadone addiction treatment, you should give it a try. Reach out for some help by calling a methadone treatment program. You are an individual, and your life is worth it.