The topics of stigma, judgements and misinformation are nothing new when it comes to discussions on Methadone Maintenance Treatment. Methadone patients have long faced stigma from many different angles. Often times, misinformation and judgements go right along with it. But over my time as a Methadone patient, I've noticed that those judgements and bits of misinformation are not only coming from those unfamiliar with the treatment, but at times directly from within the MMT patient community itself.
Each year, the 31st of August marks an important date. It's a topic that I've touched upon with several articles in the past, and one that needs to be even more widely discussed. Do YOU know what August 31st is?
Despite the recent uproar over the installation of 'anti-homeless' spikes located in cities in the UK and Canada, concrete or metal spikes are only the tip of the iceberg in a disturbing trend of innovative techniques designed to 'repel' the homeless.
Once the photos of 'anti-homeless spikes' began circulating on Twitter, the outrage was fuelled with each successive favourite and retweet. The styles of the anti-homeless 'spikes' varied from photo to photo, ranging from pointed pieces of concrete to spiked pieces of metal protruding dangerously from the ground.
While opponents of harm reduction initiatives have long cited numerous reasons as to why such services are indeed causing harm rather than actually reducing it, research has shown that these programs are in fact leaving a lasting positive impact on the communities and drug users that implement them.
If you've ever had the experience of wasting precious time you'll never get back watching Dr. Drew Pinsky's 'Celebrity Rehab', you might be vaguely familiar with Bob Forrest. A musician and recovering addict himself, Forest had many appearances on 'Celebrity Rehab', in which he was a counsellor charged with assisting other addicts in their recovery during their stay with Dr. Drew. Nowadays, he has taken the leap into opening his own addiction treatment facility, called "Acadia Malibu". On the facility's website, Forrest runs a blog that features a post entitled "Legal Heroin - Chasing The Wagon", in which his feelings about Harm Reduction are made very clear; calling it nothing but a 'con'.
What does sobriety mean to you? Do you consider yourself to be sober? Depending on the definition of sobriety used, you could be considered either clean as a whistle, or a dirty junkie. How is this even possible?
What it means to be sober can be a highly debatable topic. People hold conflicting views on what sobriety really means, and are often extremely passionate about it. The strictest definition is the believe that abstinence from any and all altering substances is required to hold that golden title of sobriety. In all honesty though, is that even a realistic expectation? Absolutely no altering substances. None. Think about that for a second. So many different things could be tossed into that extremely broad definition. By that standard, only a very small group of people would be able to consider the Consider themselves sober. Drink Coffee? Take ANY medications? Smoke? Drink? Well according to this strict stance, you're all just as dirty as I am. You filthy Coffee junkies!
Stepping back from the extreme, Methadone patients are a really great example that generates conflicting views about sobriety. Some strongly believe that a methadone patient is by no means sober. Methadone, like heroin or Oxycontin, is in fact an opiate. Therefore, many hold the view that taking Methadone (another opiate) in place of the drug of abuse is simply swapping one addiction for the other. Therefore a methadone patient is far from being in a sober state, regardless if they've stopped using needles, and snorting or abusing their drug of choice, they are still on an opiate - therefore, dirty! No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Well move over, outdated, strict and unrealistic definitions of sobriety! A brand spanking new viewpoint is making its way onto the scene. It's one of the best I have seen, and comes courtesy of Dr. Adi Jaffe and Dr. Marc Kern from Addiction Alternatives, who have an innovative, realistic take on what it means to be sober. Let's take a look at some of their views on the topic.
"According to the dictionary, 'abstinence is the avoidance of consumption' whereas 'sobriety is the condition of control'. The traditional 12-step based treatment programs for addiction define these two terms I accurately - using them interchangeably and synonymously. Because of this error, most people unintentionally get confused, which often results in them falling easy prey to a type of 'psychological recovery gridlock'"
So what do Dr. Jaffe and Dr. Kern believe is the best way to view sobriety?
"Sobriety is really a psychological or emotional state of self-management - not really having to do with abstinence. Sobriety is available to drinkers and non-drinkers alike, and is seen when people relate to their world in a rational, calm, and mature manner".
I absolutely love that. The traits if self-management and avoiding excess. But they don't stop there, ensuring to highlight how detrimental dated definitions of sobriety can really be.
"The idea that sobriety requires abstinence also substantially limits the potential recovery options made available to an individual seeking help, as well as implying to the therapist that abstinence is always the most appropriate treatment goal. It coerced people into believing that addiction recovery is an either/or situation - with only total abstinence as an acceptable outcome. But that limited mindset is not the truth - and certainly not helpful to everyone".
Speaking from personal experience, the above statement very true. When I initially sought help, I entered a rehab centre which gave me no other options than full detox and abstinence of all drugs. Methadone wasn't seen as a option for someone seeking to be sober. Guess what happened? I failed, and miserably at that. Barely two days after check-in, I was checking out - and checking right back into a life of addiction, one that spiralled even further out of control. Prior to entering rehab, I was snorting pills. Not long after leaving, I had become an IV drug user. The complete and utter failure of my attempt at sobriety just made me a million times feel worse. I felt absolutely pathetic, and totally out of options. I truly did not believe I would ever be able to stop using. I just could not manage to kick the habit - whether I went cold turkey, or I tried naively to ween myself off; it always ended in failure. Each time I failed, the possibility of sobriety slipped even further away, to a point where I truly believed it was unreachable. On trips to get dope, I can remember seeing people out for a jog, out biking or playing sports, and thinking to myself that I am never again going to be able to do those things - I wasn't not at all ignorant to the fact that I was a complete and utter slave to the needle, and that's just the way it was going to be from now on. I couldn't get myself out of bed in the morning without dope, let alone do anything other than find money for drugs, get drugs, and then do said drugs. That was my life, and it was a hell I thought I was to be stuck in forever. I truly believed I was just too far gone. Then I found Methadone, and it saved my life.
Of course, this new view of sobriety is a hotly debated one, as not everyone agrees that this is the best way to go. Approaches such as methadone maintenance, treatment of alcoholism through daily regulated dispensing of booze to addicts, and various other harm reduction approaches are often viewed as controversial, but when it comes down to straight facts, they work. Why are we as a society so stuck in this outdated and stigmatizing view of addiction and it's treatment options? When highly effective options are available to help give addicts their lives back, we should in no way be stigmatizing their use, nor holding such negative views and unrealistic expectations, as it is truly detrimental.
Whatever you believe that meaning of sobriety to be, just worry about holding yourself to that standard, not everyone else around you. Such an unattainable definition of only damages and repels those who desperately need treatment from the necessary seeking help, as it feels like a hopelessly impossible task. Effective treatment options are available that can change the lives of addicts in drastic ways. Let's stop guilting and shaming them away from accessing these life saving treatment options and give them hope that a sober, functional life is within reach.
To read more about Dr. Adi Jaffe and Dr. Marc Kern's innovative take on sobriety, as well as information and resources, visit http://www.addictionalternatives.com
Image via http://www.newvaluestreams.com
It's been a rough week. I have always been fairly good at brushing off the discrimination my pharmacy dishes out on no regular basis, but the past few days have just pushed me past my limit. They have truly made me feel like less of a human being this week, and it hurts. It bothers me even more that it's actually getting me to me - a lot. Thing is, I know I'm not a unique case. Addicts all over the place are being ignored, mistreated, disrespected, discriminated against and stigmatized. I've had just about enough of it.
It's not as though this is an unheard of problem. It rears it's ugly head in the media and communities on a regular basis. You'll most certainly hear all about it when addiction treatment centres and methadone clinics attempt to open a new clinic in a 'nice neighbourhood'. You'll find it alive and well at hospitals and healthcare facilities, where the general sentiment towards addicts seems to be one of disgust. Ask you neighbours or community members if they'd like to live right beside a known addict, drug user or methadone clinic, and I'm willing the bet the resounding response will be a big fat NO. This is not news. Rather than just complaining or sharing my personal first hand accounts, I thought I'd share some actual research, statistics and cold hard facts that shows the stigma of the addict is a very widespread issue.
For the purpose of this article, I'll be referring to definitions, facts and statistics from the website http://www.drugpolicy.org - I recommend checking out the site for more information, there's plenty of great stuff to sift through. Spread the awareness!
So what exactly is 'stigma'?
"Stigma is defined as the experience of being 'deeply discredited' or marked due to ones 'undesired differentness'. To be stigmatized is to be held in contempt, shunned, or rendered socially invisible because of a socially disapproved status"
Now that we've got a clearer understanding of what exactly it means to be stigmatized, let's take a deeper look. Do my experiences count as being stigmatized? You bet. It's not just me either. Addicts all over are being treated with disrespect and discrimination. Just how bad is it?
"No physical or psychiatric condition is more associated with social disapproval and discrimination than substance dependence"
Pretty glum. It's not just the general population that feels this way either. The stigmatization is rampant amongst healthcare workers as well. This creates huge problems when it comes to ensuring addicts are using safe injection practices and accessing healthcare services when needed.
"According to research, the majority of healthcare professionals hold negative, stereotyped views of people who use illicit drugs. Stigma is a major factor preventing individuals from seeking and completing addiction treatment and from utilizing harm reduction services such as syringe access programs".
My personal experiences sadly only reaffirm the above statement. I've experienced it in hospital ERs, physicians offices, and pharmacies - providing a very different level of care and treatment to addicts, and not in a good way. The stigma of addiction also exists amongst drug users. Those who use softer drugs such as marijuana can often hold negatives views of those using harder drugs such as cocaine or heroin.
So how do change these stigmas? Is it even possible to change such widespread negatives views? Changing the way we refer to those struggling with addiction is one place to start. Rather than calling derogatory and discriminatory names often used to describe the drug user in a negative light, focus on the person.
"The way we talk about drugs and the people who use them can create or uphold stigma. Words like ‘crackhead,’ ‘junkie’ and ‘pillhead’ dehumanize a person who may be struggling with addiction. Focus on the whole person, not a behaviour".
As much as I'd love to be able to brush it all off, it's not that easy. Honestly, It hurts. I'm a person too. I'm someone's daughter, someone's wife. I'm not just the nameless junkie wrecking havoc in your neighbourhood, trashing it up and lowering property values with my unwanted presence. Yes, I'm a recovering addict, but that is far from the only thing that defines me. I'm trying every day to ensure I don't ever slip back into that hell. Remember that no one aspires to be a 'junkie'. Trust me, that detour through addiction hell was definitely not in my ten year plan.
Image via http://stonetreeaus.wordpress.com/
By K. Lanktree
- Freelance Writer -
- Blog Mistress -
- Former IV Drug User -
- Methadone Patient -
- Lover of all things Harm Reduction -
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