She changed my mind on Methadone and perhaps yours too

Methadone is arguably the most controversial form of addiction treatment. Why should we support it? For the same reasons we support the use and availability of insulin, nitroglycerin, cholesterol and blood pressure medications. They treat diseases.

How open minded are we? When it comes to addiction, addiction treatments, and addiction recovery, a lot of us, myself included, are highly biased.

Here’s my bias: If it saves someone’s life, I’m all about it. As long as someone is vertical and breathing, there’s a chance for them to enter recovery and experience a newfound freedom. Millions of people do.

My mind is full of names – people I care about whose lives were cut short by addiction. I don’t have words to describe how hard it is to see people dying and to know their disease is viewed as a political issue and morally judged.

Many years ago, I was an outspoken critic of Methadone and “Opiate Replacement Therapy.” I was not a supporter of “harm reduction.” I wanted only to support abstinence – in my myopic view, people either pursued total abstinence or were “trading one addiction for another.”.

“…and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” – 12 Steps & 12 Traditions

I have since spent a lot of years supporting folks who are/were quite adamant that they’d have died without Methadone. One of these amazing and courageous people is a former client, “Brandy.”

Brandy kindly addressed my closed mindedness by asking me, “How often do people get lethal doses of heroin?” Often. “And how often do people get bad doses of Methadone?” Never. “Methadone can be administered and titrated under medical supervision. Do you believe people can realistically and safely titrate off of street drugs without medical support?” Rarely.

“Are there enough detox beds? Rehabs? Intensive Outpatient Programs?” No. “How affordable are treatment programs for the uninsured?” Not at all. “How much is Methadone treatment for the uninsured?” About $90 a week (current).

My perspective shifted toward sanity and I suffered an embarrassing realization, “If I do not judge people for their addictions, why in the world would I judge their recovery efforts?”

Brandy is one of the countless success stories we don’t hear nearly enough of. She drove 4 hours a day to receive treatment. She was in the car by 5am, in Bangor by 7am, and at work by 9am. She was willing to go to any lengths to not do street drugs. She gradually cut her dose by 5mg a week. She’s been completely clean and sober for five years now. Her story is heroic but far from rare.

Treatment centers in greater Bangor routinely serve folks from Aroostook, Washington, Piscatquis, Waldo, and Penobscot counties. This is a life and death proposition and folks do what they do because they want to live.

In the wake of Bangor City Council’s recent lack of support for the expansion of Metro Clinic, I contacted Brandy and asked for her take on what we need.

“We need every possible solution and every bit of support we can get. People are still dying – hundreds and thousands a day (nationwide). Even one death is too many.”

“We need empathy, patience and for people to be see that we’re trying first and foremost to do is to not die. People see a drug addict and they think, ‘bad person, welfare case, weak person who expects others to pay their way’. I see a drug addict and I think, There but for the grace of God go I. That’s someone’s son or daughter. That’s someone’s friend, mother, father, grandparent, coworker, roommate, neighbor.”

“We need for folks to know that we do – a lot of us do, recover. The news only reports our crimes and our overdoses. They don’t talk show up when we graduate, get GEDs, get new jobs, raise children, fix our lives and help others.”

“I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been blessed by my new family in AA and NA who loved me and believed in me when I couldn’t do that for myself. Today I get to give to others what was given to me.”

I can’t tell you how inspiring and what an honor it is to know so many people who dramatically change their lives for the better. Best people anywhere.

200 more of my brother’s and sister’s lives potentially hang in the balance of political decisions. The people in my “Circle of Caring” don’t dispute anyone’s right to remain vertical and breathing. Given the opportunity to help folks save themselves we do so without judgment. We deserve no less.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.