Stigma Against Methadone

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The Stigma against Methadone Users and the Healthcare Providers Who Help Them

Abstract
The purpose of this research is to identify a stigma against methadone users and those in the healthcare field who are trying to help them become drug free. Methadone is a synthetic drug brought to America in the 1960’s to help with opiate addiction. During the fifty years since then, it has been a very successful treatment drug, but a stigma has developed that to use this drug is to be considered a “junkie”. This is not the case; this paper will also discuss ways in which to educate about and overcome the stigma against those who work with or take methadone.

What is a Stigma?
According to sociologist Erving Goffman, “a stigma refers to characteristics that discredit people… the stigma can become a person’s master status, defining him or her as deviant” (Henslin, 2012). Whether or not the accused person actually takes part the activities and behaviors the stigma depicts, they are still discredited, judged, and even ostracized because of others like them who do participate in the stigma’s behaviors. Anyone associated with a deviant behavior automatically gets grouped together, whether they take part in it or not, hence the stigma.

What is Methadone?
Methadone is a man-made drug originally synthesized in Germany in 1937. Thirty years later, in the 1960’s, it was introduced to the United States as a treatment for drug addiction. Since then, for over fifty years, methadone has been used to help drug addicts get clean of opiates and regain stability; during that time, there has been no evidence that taking methadone for long periods of time causes damage to the body (Drug Policy Alliance, 2006). The Drug Policy Alliance, an organization committed to identifying, acknowledging, and promoting health-centered alternatives to drugs (2011), supports the use of methadone to treat opiate addiction and states that when used appropriately and a proper dose is reached, opioid “cravings stop, without creating the effects of euphoria, sedation, or an analgesic effect” (2006, p. 8). In other words, the human brain has receptors that when stimulated by drugs, create a drug user’s “high”. Methadone covers those receptors so that the user does not feel the need to take drugs, yet they will not get high from the methadone either. This is called “the blockade effect” and allows for drug-dependent people the opportunity to stabilize, maintain a job, buy a car, get an apartment or housing, and keep healthy relationships, among other things.

A Stigma against Methadone
Methadone is used for both chronic pain and opiate addiction, yet the majority of society has the assumption that if one is to use methadone, they must be drug addicts. Yes, there are many people in society who are trying to free themselves from drug use, but there are others who take methadone simply because it helps them with their chronic pain when nothing else does. Also, when society hears the word methadone, a picture of an addict getting drugs off the street and overdosing from heroin and cocaine comes to mind immediately. However, this is not the entire picture; at a methadone clinic in Westbrook, Maine, only twenty five percent of the patients who come to get their dose are people who are detoxing from street drugs. That means that there are an additional seventy five percent dosing every day. Why are they patients at the clinic? Because they are there to clear themselves from drugs that their own physicians have prescribed to them. Even though three quarters of the population coming in every day are there because of their doctors, and not because they were addicted to street drugs, patients still have a difficult time entering methadone maintenance treatment. Walter Ginter, director of the National Alliance of Methadone Advocates (NAMA), reported the following to Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly: Many of the public think of methadone as just a...
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