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Former Heroin Addict: Methadone Lets Me Live a "Normal Life," and Prohibiting It Would Be a Public Health Disaster

A heroin user of 6 years has been using methadone for some 10 years, and sees forced-abstinence as "a recipe for disaster."
 
 
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I use methadone on a daily basis, have done for some 10 years. I started on a low dose and went to a fairly high dose. I've since come down and I take 60ml a day, which is a kind of medium-level dose.

It enables me to live what can be described as a "normal" life. I work, I have a family, I'm also a postgraduate student. What the drug does is enable you to get out of the vicious cycle which comes with heroin addiction, which is a constant stress of having to score, to buy  drugs, to use them, to get money to do more, which is an endless process because as soon as the heroin wears off you become ill. It's a vicious cycle. So opio-substitution therapy enables you to get out of this vicious cycle and live life.

It's all very well saying that it's an individual choice to take drugs. This is what the government's approach tends to be – "You have to take responsibility for your own life," That's all very well and may sound good in political speeches, but human behaviour is much more complex than that.

There are all kinds of facts involved in why people take drugs. There's the whole social context, the psychological background involved. So like many people, I wouldn't have been able to just stop. Very few people can do that. With substitutes and therapies, some people stay on them for years, some people stay on them indefinitely. Other people find that after a year or a few months they can come off, but that should be done in what's been called a "therapeutic alliance" between the prescribing physician and the patient. It shouldn't be enforced, it won't work.

I go to a private doctor. The main reason for doing so is so that I have some protection from the involvement of this form of medicine in the party-political system. Because there's this kind of swings and roundabouts between, "We do maintenance, now we don't do maintenance." It's a familiar part of the political landscape, unfortunately. And if you're an NHS patient you're vulnerable to government changes and policies which stem from the respective ideologies of the various political parties.

I know people on NHS scripts who are really worried about the implications of this because, what happens if people are forced off methadone is very often they go back to using street heroin with all the attendant risks of HIV and injecting abscesses, all kinds of unhealthy and sordid aspects of heroin addiction. A very small proportion of people are able to come off on that kind of basis, and I see it as a recipe for disaster. A public health, criminal justice disaster, basically.

James Legge is a journalism student, funded by the Scott Trust, the sole shareholder in Guardian Media Group.