Wednesday, June 19, 2013
A misguided state policy that cuts support for drug treatment programs could turn a rising tide of heroin use into a tsunami.
File photo/The Associated Press
Just as public health officials report an increase in the use of injected heroin on our streets, hard limits on the use of the most popular drugs used to treat narcotics addicts are set to go into effect.
On Jan. 1, a two-year limit on the use of state funding for methadone and buprenorphine, the two most effective drugs for treating heroin addiction, takes effect. The caps are retroactive, meaning that some addicts will be cut off immediately.
While that might sound like a tough-love solution, the attitude does not comprend the reality of opiate addiction, a lifelong condition that requires long-term treatment in many cases. Addicts who are cut off from drugs that ease cravings and prevent withdrawal are in danger of relapse. Methadone patients who have been able to control their addiction and live and work with the help of the medication could see their whole world come unglued.
The rise of heroin addiction in Maine drowns out a good news story in the same field. The abuse of addictive narcotic painkillers is down, thanks to an extensive prevention campaign that included public education and work with physicians.
Prevention gives the state the most bang for the buck, but it can't be the only response to drug use. Cutting the supply of prescription drugs may stop some people from becoming addicts, but it could just force current addicts onto street drugs. Combined with the end of maintentance program this could boost street crime.
The best approach includes treatment and enhanced law enforcement as well as prevention efforts, attacking the supply of and demand for narcotics at the same time.
The state should change this short-sighted policy before Maine's already serious drug crisis gets even more out of hand.