Methadone saves lives, restores productivity: Drug's bad press shouldn't harm treatment for addiction

The recent increase in negative perceptions of methadone as a treatment for opiate addiction and the potential that has for limiting treatment alternatives for the citizens of West Virginia is a cause for concern in the health care community. I am a member of the Board of Directors of CRC Health Group, Inc. - as well as someone who is proud to have spent a significant amount of my professional life supporting effective drug and alcohol treatment.

I am grateful for the leadership and support of Gov. Joe Manchin and Martha Yeager Walker, Secretary of the State Department of Health and Human Resources, to assure West Virginia citizens full access to science-based medical and behavioral health treatment for opiate addiction.

CRC Health Group is extremely proud to work with State authorities that provide support for people with substance abuse treatment needs. West Virginia has been a strong supporter of substance abuse treatment services. Without treatment, chronic drug and alcohol abuse becomes a disaster for families, employers, law enforcement and the community. We commend the efforts of HHS and Sheila Kelly, Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, for the clinically sound and comprehensive set of regulations that now govern the operation of methadone treatment clinics.

CRC Health Group provides nationwide treatment services for science-based substance abuse and behavioral health disorders. We also own and operate a number of opiate treatment clinics in West Virginia. We are very proud to be the largest drug and alcohol treatment provider in the nation. CRC is dedicated to providing the absolute highest quality care to our patients. We focus on achieving the lowest possible relapse rates. We focus on outcome-based evidence of treatment effectiveness for opiate addiction.

I am concerned that the recent rash of negative publicity and political commentary on methadone treatment might lead to unwise changes to treatment regulations that are not consistent with science. Changes that are not consistent with evidenced-based clinical protocols will adversely affect treatment outcomes and therefore negatively impact West Virginia communities and families.

I have fought for greater public awareness of the benefits of science-based drug treatment from the time that I served as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (1996-2001) to the present. This issue is so crucial that I wanted to express my concern directly.

Science-based methadone maintenance treatment helps those addicted to opiates sustain their recovery. The result is less crime, fewer emergency room admissions, more citizens working, and less suffering for families and the community. More individuals contribute in taxes instead of costing in health or imprisonment. We are proud of our CRC support of West Virginia's drug and alcohol treatment system. Our clinics make a huge difference in the battle against heroin and OxyContin addiction.

Heroin has always been a problematic drug in the United States, but recent reports show a tripling over the last five years in abuse of "the new heroin," opiate painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Dilaudid, Codeine, Morphine and Fentanyl. Teens are the latest to come into this trend - and perhaps the saddest to see in prison. Some 4.5 million youths, or 19 percent of U.S. teenagers, reported taking prescription painkillers, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America last year.

Treatment works to reduce the use of these illegal drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse Treatment Outcomes Study, "Methadone treatment reduced patients' heroin abuse by 70 percent, their criminal activity by 57 percent and increased their full-time employment by 24 percent."

Treatment has major economical benefits as well. The National Institute of Drug Abuse has concluded, "Every $1 invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs and theft alone. When savings related to health care are included, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12 to 1."

CRC's and my goal is to assist state health departments and state methadone authorities to improve the quality and effectiveness of substance abuse services. Of CRC patients, 93.7 percent report that their problems are "somewhat" or "a great deal" better because of treatment.

We share Gov. Manchin's and Secretary Walker's commitment to sound public health management policies. We have a common goal to create a recovery-focused system for the people of West Virginia.

McCaffrey, a retired four-star general, was director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1996 to 2001 and is on the board of directors of CRC Health Group.