This morning the "All Sides" talk show on WOSU radio had a set of authorities on the nature of the local heroin problem. Would you believe the timing? Last Saturday morning at 7:30 am thirteen local teenagers were busted for dealing heroin out of my hometown Worthington Square, and at the Dairy Queen at North Street and High, at the foot of the hill from my residence into town. Five of the thirteen were Worthingtonians themselves.
I was listening to a panel of law enforcement and drug treatment experts and getting exasperated, when one of the treatment folks mentioned offering methadone maintenance as an option. There was a lot of talk from law enforcement authorities on how pharmacy burglaries and robberies concentrated on synthetic opiates. I e-mailed a question: Isn't methadone a synthetic opiate? If so, how does it differ from the stuff stolen from pharmacies? A treatment authority began with "Hal is absolutely right, but..." the punchline being that the way they administer methadone you can't get high. I wrote back the message below--l&p hal:
I just retired from nearly forty years of teaching and writing about drug control. My answer to my own question about methadone is that methadone differs from other opiates in that you may need to be busted to qualify for getting it to relieve the kind of back pain, for instance, that brought no less than Rush Limbaugh to oxycontin. The back pain folks you describe weren't looking to get high; they were looking for pain relief, which if you qualify, can work with methadone.
We don't know about the toxicity of any artificial opiate, but natural opium is essentially non-toxic. People die from overdoses, like taking a bhottle of aspirin when you think you are taking one tablet. Switzerland maintains heroin addicts on...heroin itself (see the Drug Policy Alliance website). Guess what, as it may happen on methadone maintenance, users' health improves, and heroin-related crime drops to zero. Opiates and marijuana are not dangerous, drug enforcement and enforced treatment is. Hal (pepinsky.blogspot.com)