Pubdate: Fri, 04 Jan 2002
Source: Tribune Review (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Robert Sharpe
Bookmark: (Oxycontin)
Bookmark: (Methadone)


The Dec. 16 article "Oxy Nation," on the OxyContin epidemic in western 
Pennsylvania, mentioned methadone, the most effective known treatment for 
heroin addiction, as a viable treatment for OxyContin addiction. Methadone 
maintenance staves off potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms, but does not 
produce a high that prevents patients from living productive lives. 
Methadone can be applied to all opiate addictions, including synthetic 
drugs like OxyContin.

Methadone maintenance programs reduce drug use and related crime, death and 
disease among chronic heroin users. Addicts would not be sharing needles if 
not for zero-tolerance laws that restrict access to clean syringes, nor 
would they be committing crimes to support their habits if not for 
artificially inflated black-market prices.

Methadone maintenance is a prime example of "harm reduction," an 
alternative approach to drug policy and treatment that focuses on 
minimizing the adverse effects of both drug use and drug prohibition. 
America's drug problem is far too serious to allow zero tolerance to 
dominate the debate at the expense of public health.

Thirty-six percent of AIDS cases in the United States can be traced to 
intravenous drug use. This easily preventable public-health crisis is a 
direct result of zero-tolerance policies that restrict access to clean 

Punitive drug laws compound the problem by driving use underground. Let's 
hope America's "tough on drugs" politicians acknowledge the drug war's 
tremendous collateral damage sooner rather than later.

Robert Sharpe, Washington, D.C.

The writer is program officer for The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy 
Foundation in Washington, D.C.
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