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Medication-Assisted Treatment: The Stigma

Years ago, people looked down on the idea of using medication for the management of addiction treatment. If you got hooked on drugs, they said, you had to just buckle up and stop using. Those people who took methadone really weren’t quitting drugs—they were just substituting one drug for another.

This attitude was especially prevalent among the family members of addicts. Their loss of patience with their loved ones possibly made it difficult to recognize that the real problem was not an embarrassing social disorder but a valid and serious medical disorder. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding medication assisted treatment still exists today.

The diagnosis of addiction for some is no different than a diagnosis of diabetes for others. Most diabetics cannot control their disorder without the use of insulin or other diabetic medications. The same can be true of addiction: The addict stands a much better chance of recovery if he utilizes a medication to help him manage his symptoms.

How the Views Have Changed Regarding Medication-Assisted Treatment

Today’s experts recognize the benefits of methadone treatment for opiate addiction. Increasing numbers of psychologists, psychiatrists, and physicians from mainstream medical facilities are joining their counterparts in the fields of counseling and social work to overcome the stigma associated with medication-assisted therapy.  From Dr. Marvin Seppala, chief medical officer at the world-renowned Hazelden clinic, to Dr. Hillary Kunins, assistant commissioner of New York City’s Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, to Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of The Partnership at—all of them plus others tout the benefits of integrating methadone into the management of opiate addiction.

Yet the stigma of methadone treatment still exists. Twelve-step programs constitute an important part of an addict’s treatment and aftercare plan, yet many methadone patients find themselves unwelcome at Narcotics Anonymous meetings. While NA has an actual policy against recognizing methadone therapy, many addicts report they are better received at AA meetings. It’s up to the addict to visit a wide selection of the meetings in his area. That’s the only way to find that one meeting or that one person at a meeting that will really make a difference in someone’s recovery.

Medically supervised methadone treatment for opiate addiction means a person can quit focusing on his drug of choice—constantly distracted by thoughts of his past highs and urges to go there again. He can be treated confidentially or with the support of his family. For many, it offers a chance of successfully moving forward into a drug-free future.

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