Maine debate heats up: methadone vs suboxone

Maine debate heats up: methadone vs suboxone

The Maine governor wants to end state funding for methadone treatment for opiate addiction and put everything into Suboxone, which has sparked heated arguments. Strangely silent are the majority who actually favor detox and abstention as standard treatment.

Nearly 4,000 Maine residents are receiving methadone treatment for opiate addiction under the state’s MaineCare (Medicaid) program. But Gov. Paul LePage wants to do away with methadone treatment entirely, and has introduced a budget that would end financial support for methadone, and switch everything to Suboxone and other drug treatments. There are several big problems with the idea, and LePage and his cronies can’t seem to get their minds around any of them. At odds with LePage’s plan are almost everyone in the state who has a stake of any kind in opiate addiction treatment. Addiction specialists, doctors and substance abuse specialists of all kinds are up in arms at the government’s plan, which they say ignores all scientific data. In fact, LePage’s own spokespeople admit that the governor’s plan is based entirely on finances with no regard whatsoever for science and research. The plan offers no suggestion at least for a pilot program, and apparently cares little or nothing for public opinion.

What about America’s favored treatment – abstention?

Recent national surveys show that the majority of Americans strongly believe that abstention from all drugs is the best and only way to approach opiate and other drug addictions. Most Americans don’t see any logic in switching a drug addict from one drug to another drug, often for years at a time. Except for the rarest and most extreme cases, neither do we. Here at Novus, we’ve seen too many wonderful recoveries – countless recoveries – to buy into the drug-switching approach to treatment. Yet the majority of Americans, people who favor safe medical drug detox followed by long-term effective rehabilitation, are not only not included in much of the ongoing debate, they’re being ignored by the state’s major news media. This situation serves to enforce the idea that the only approach to treating opiate addiction is prescribing more drugs. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Every day of the week people are recovering from opiate addiction at detox and rehab centers across the country.

So what will happen if the governor gets his way?

What will happen if the plan to cut state funding for methadone clinics becomes law? A whole kettle-full of problems has surfaced during the debate:
  • Suboxone is considered effective for opiate addicts with “less severe addiction.” It has clearly been shown ineffective and even dangerously so for longer-term addicts. Assigning everyone to Suboxone is absurd and actually medical malpractice.
  • Suboxone is not some heaven-sent cure for anything, and it has its own problems. It is more easily diverted to addicts without a prescription than methadone. It can have deadly side effects when combined with alcohol and other medications. And the latest info from law enforcement is that it’s gaining a lot of favor in the underworld, especially in prisons, where it’s smuggled in on a regular basis.
  • Suboxone costs much more than methadone, yet the governor wants to enact a law based on a perceived idea that it will cost the state less than methadone. There are a lot of figures being quoted, some saying he’s right, others that he’s way wrong.
  • Suboxone must be administered by certified physicians, generally primary care doctors. Certified doctors can only treat 100 patients at a time and there aren’t nearly enough certified doctors in Maine to handle the volume now.
  • The needed number of certified doctors couldn’t possibly be reached in time for the governor’s deadline. In fact, some observers say there aren’t enough doctors in the state who are willing or even interested enough in such a program to apply for Suboxone certification.
  • Many of the 3,800 addicts on MaineCare currently receiving methadone at the state’s 11 clinics will be left with no available state-funded treatment. Hundreds will be faced with no other choice to stave off withdrawal except relapse – a return to the streets, to heroin and illicit opioid pharmaceuticals, to lost jobs and alienated families, to HIV and other shared needle infections and to the ultimate end – death from overdose.

Again, what about detox, rehab and abstention?

Throughout this debate, there’s been precious little input from those who believe in abstention – almost nothing in the news. It’s all about alternative drugs to treat drug problems. There are some very powerful influences, let’s just call them “the drug lobby,” pushing for the use of drug alternatives as the only way to treat opiate addiction. Statistics supporting these drugs, and vilifying traditional detox and rehab, are highly suspect. Yet they reach all the way to federal health care levels, even the White House. Here at Novus, we see daily evidence of the effectiveness of modern medical detoxification protocols. People are winning by abstaining from drugs, and they’re returning to their lives drug free – not shackled for who knows how many years to a methadone clinic or a doctor’s office. If you’re in need of some help with a drug problem, call us and we’ll do our experienced best to answer your questions and get you or your loved one on the road to full recovery.

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