Treating methadone stigma
METHADONE use is rising in the ACT community, but Health Alcohol and Drug Services are challenging the stigma attached to it and are urging the community to recognise drug dependency as a mental illness.
ACT Health currently treats about 900 patients on the Opioid Treatment Service program, weaning dependents off illicit drugs and onto methadone or buprenorphine, and about 200 patients through the Canberra Hospital public clinic.
Alcohol and drug services nurse Amanda Coselett said drug dependence happened for all sorts of reasons and it’s important for the stigma attached to be relinquished.
Statistics from the program show that the number of people seeking treatment has increased, something Ms Coslett believes shows the system works.
”Putting patients on methadone – a clean drug that’s swallowed instead of injected – keeps them functioning, working, looking after their children and a part of the community,” Ms Coslett said.
A recent Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Seattle Times raised concerns about risks associated with methadone, where the drug accounted for less than 10 per cent of opioid drugs prescribed to patients, but resulted in more than half of all accidental deaths in the region.
But manager of the Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy, Nicole Wiggins, said opioid replacement options were safer for the community than having people using heroin.
”It’s important to remember that street heroin can be extremely dangerous and is cut with all sorts of different and harmful additives.
”Methadone is a really well-researched choice of treatment and has been proven to be quite effective amongst drug dependent individuals and helps make substantial improvements in health, social and psychological functioning,” Ms Wiggins said.
Methadone as a treatment solution is something Ms Coslett believes necessary to stop the mortality rate often associated with illicit drug taking.
”We’re not necessarily looking at getting people off methadone because while they’re on the prescribed medication they’re stable,” she said.
As part of Drug Action Week ACT Health is urging people to remember that drug dependence is quite common across the ACT.
Ms Wiggins said places such as methadone clinics are helping shed light on drug dependency as a mental illness. ”The stigma relating to seeking help is definitely diminishing [in the ACT] thanks, in part, to places that offer methadone treatment options,” she said.