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03 – USU Calls for Methadone Reform

USU calls for methadone reform

By Aaron Ferguson

It has been clear for a long time that access to methadone and buprenorphine is too restricted. Despite having the tools at our disposal to cut drug poisonings in half, those seeking these medications still have to do more than most people are capable of doing. Patients are required to spend hours driving to and from the clinic for daily dosing, have their privacy violated by being “observed” while urinating, and carry around their medications in lock-boxes like no other prescription in the world. These are just a few of the standard practices that make using heroin more attractive than getting treatment.

When COVID-19 took place it threw a serious wrench in the social control that is the opioid treatment system. With state and local governments issuing stay at home orders, people could no longer continue congregating in long lines outside of clinics at 6 AM waiting for the doors to open. When SAMHSA and the DEA released guidelines allowing for the most relaxed regulations to methadone in 40+ years, the Urban Survivor’s Union, the National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery, and the Drug Policy Alliance came together to write a letter in support of a more humane approach to MAT delivery. The outdated, ineffective regulations on these medications were not only preventing people from getting lifesaving treatment, they were now placing them directly in harm’s way.

More than a few members of USU attend methadone clinics across the country, and the adverse experiences each have had—both before and during COVID-19–are shining examples of the need for reform. When the letter first started taking shape we had no clue what kind of support it would receive. Within a matter of weeks, over 140 organizations and hundreds of individuals had signed on in support. Following a social media campaign under the hashtag “freethemethadone,” we have found ourselves leading a national discussion about how treatment providers and regulators can do a better job of humanizing treatment. News outlets have begun to spotlight this important topic, and we hope to begin seeing some concrete steps toward lasting reform both during, and after COVID.

What we definitely do not want is to go back to business as usual. The way this treatment has been conducted up to this point is simply unacceptable and people are dying because of it. We as a union strongly support permanent reform to the current system of delivery for methadone and buprenorphine to more accurately reflect the needs of people who use substances. We believe that the best way to save lives is for treatment decisions to involve patients in the conversation about their own health, just like any other field of medicine. In the future we will continue to urge regulators and providers to apply the same attitude to people who use drugs as they would to every other American seeking medical assistance. We need your support in this effort. Please look into attending our Monday Methadone calls, and reach out to us to find out how you can become involved in this fight for change.

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