It is reported (Wisconsin State Journal May 1) that Deborah Powers, who regulates methadone clinics for the state of Wisconsin, has suggested “limits on how long people can be in [methadone] treatment” as a response to substantially increased need and demand for care. This makes as much sense as a demand that those lucky enough to cram into one of the Titanic lifeboats be required to give up their places every few minutes to unfortunate survivors still in the water. Or to use a medical analogy: to proclaim a pre-natal clinic is “at capacity” and thus limiting each pregnant woman’s care to no more than three months.
Opiate dependence is a chronic, notoriously relapsing, potentially fatal medical condition. Many different treatment approaches exist and all deserve support. None, however - whether long-term or short-term, with medication or without, in-patient or ambulatory – has ever been able to make a credible claim that it is a cure. As for methadone maintenance in particular, no treatment has been shown to be more effective in attracting and retaining patients and in helping them resume healthy, productive lives. Furthermore, experience throughout the world for more than four decades has demonstrated that it can be expanded rapidly and at a modest cost, with enormous benefits not only to patients but to the community as a whole.
Wisconsin, and every other state in the nation, should focus on providing prompt care for all opiate dependent people who want and need it – and with tragic frequency die without it. No public officials should be more committed to this goal than those who, like Ms. Powers, are given the authority and responsibility to “regulate” treatment services.