The tragic death of Peaches Geldof this past April (2014) has refocused the spotlight on drug addiction and recovery in the UK. Her death has also reopened the wounds for many recovering addicts who remember what life was like when addiction was the only purpose for living. In all of it, there are new questions being raised about the effectiveness and necessity of methadone treatment.
News reports say that Geldof died from a lethal injection of heroin. However, a post-mortem revealed the model and presenter also had significant amounts of methadone, codeine, and morphine in her system at the time of her death. As a mother of two young children, Geldof had been attempting to overcome her addiction through an established recovery programme. Now there are questions of whether or not that programme was truly helping her.
Well-known addiction recovery specialist Dr Robert LeFevre is among those questioning Geldof’s use of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction. He recently said in a Sky News interview that methadone is not a legitimate treatment; it is simply another addiction. When challenged by the interviewer, LeFevre went on to explain the difference between gradual detox and methadone maintenance.
Dr Robert Lefever On Sky News
When methadone was first introduced as a treatment for heroin addiction the idea was to use it as a way to gradually detox in order to avoid some of the nasty withdrawal symptoms. The user would be given methadone as a substitute drug and slowly withdrawn. Today however, such uses of methadone are not the norm. Instead, the drug is prescribed as a maintenance medication.
Abstinence vs Harm Reduction in Recovery
As Dr LeFevre pointed out, maintenance use of methadone is not true recovery. We believe the only way to recovery is permanent abstinence from addictive substances, however we acknowledge harm reduction as a method of treatment for some. When an addict is transferred from heroin to methadone, it is commonly termed ‘harm reduction’, meaning the addict (and society) gain by reducing the negative consequences of drug use – it became popular in the 1980’s in order to help reduce HIV infection in drug misuse caused by needle sharing . Technically, it is only a transfer of one addiction to another. There are many arguments for and against methadone (and abstinence versus harm reduction) and there are many pathways to recovery, but the time is now to act to change how the UK deals with addiction and recovery.
Unfortunately, Geldof’s death illustrates perfectly the potential consequences of treating addicts without requiring abstinence. Doctor LeFevre claimed in his interview that is not uncommon for drug addicts to use multiple substances simultaneously. Therefore, even if methadone is used to withdraw from heroin, one must ask if the recovering addict is using anything else. Abstinence from all addictive substances must be insisted upon if treatment is to be successful.
We Need Changes
If anything good can come out of the death of Peaches Geldof, we hope it is that drug addiction policy makers finally wake up to the fact that we need changes in the way we do things. We need increased funding for residential rehab clinics; we need a refocused effort toward abstinence rather than maintenance; we need a way to introduce accountability into the NHS treatment system, but above all: we all need easier and quicker access to treatment for all.
For most people with alcohol or drug misuse, thinking has to change in the direction of taking personal responsibility for recovery rather than depending solely on a doctor, or medication, to get well. Each addict has a personal journey in recovery and there are lots of pathways, but we must all provide support to help addicts help themselves – there is no other way to do it.
Get Help Now
If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol yourself, we urge you to get help right away. We can assist you in gaining admission to a residential treatment programme that can help you come clean and teach you how to abstain permanently. If you cannot afford private treatment, we can help you find an appropriate programme through another provider, local free services and advise on how to get in to recovery. There is help available for everyone who may suffer from any addiction, including Methadone addiction, so please call, before it’s too late.