The Grapevine

Few People Believe Methadone Treatment For Heroin Addicts Is Best, More Favor Going Cold Turkey

heroin user
Just 19 percent of surveyed Americans believe heroin addicts trying to quit their habit should be medically supervised and provided with synthetic opiates like methadone. Urbansnaps-kennymc, CC by 2.0

Heroin is synthesized from morphine, a naturally-occurring substance extracted from the opium poppy plant. Researchers estimate that about 23 percent of people who use this opioid drug will become dependent on it and, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40 to 60 percent of people treated for any drug addiction relapse. Now, a new YouGov/Huffington Post survey of finds that just 19 percent of 1,000 surveyed adults believe heroin addicts trying to quit their habit should be medically supervised and provided with synthetic opiates like methadone.

Exactly half of those surveyed recommended instead that addicts attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings and detox completely as they believe it’s most important to get an addict off drugs entirely. A third of respondents said they were unsure of the best method for treating addiction.

The results of this survey stand in stark contrast to results from last year’s Pew Research Center national survey, which found 67 percent of Americans say the government should focus more on providing treatment for those who use illegal drugs, including hard drugs like heroin, rather than prosecuting users. Support for a treatment-based approach spanned nearly all demographic groups, according to Pew and by nearly a two-to-one margin — 63 percent to 32 percent — people said it was a good thing, not bad, that some states have moved away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

Slightly more than a decade ago, Pew found Americans evenly divided over the abandonment of mandatory drug terms in many states. Strictly speaking these two surveys cannot be directly compared as they arise from different polling organizations asking dissimilar questions. However, it is interesting to note that the Pew survey finds consistency with regard to the issue of drug abuse. A large majority of people across the country believe drug abuse to be either a crisis (32 percent) or a serious problem (55 percent); these views have barely wavered since the mid-1990s.

What Withdrawal Looks Like

Medication combined with behavioral therapy, says Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is the most effective treatment for people who suffer from addiction and for those around them. Medication treatment would include doctor's supervision and administration of either methadone, buprenorphine, suboxone, or another drug, which would remove the cravings associated with heroin addiction. Chronic use of heroin leads to physical dependence, and when a dependent user reduces or stops using abruptly, withdrawal occurs. Symptoms of withdrawal include severe craving for the drug, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, and kicking movements. The terms "cold turkey" and "kicking the habit" are derived from these final two symptoms.

Returning to the YouGov/Huffington Post Survey, 40 percent of those polled "agree more" with the argument that synthetic drugs (such as methadone) are more dangerous than helpful for recovering addicts. By contrast, just 24 percent of people "agree more" with the argument that synthetic drugs are more helpful than dangerous. About a third (36 percent) of those polled said they were unsure when weighing the validity of these two arguments.

Meanwhile more than half of those polled said they would feel either "somewhat" or "very" uncomfortable to find a methadone clinic erected in their neighborhood. By a two-to-one margin once again (64 percent and 33 percent), those polled said they did not know someone who has been addicted to heroin (or another opiate) compared to those who said they did know someone — or those who had once been addicted themselves (one percent).

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