Opiate Addiction and Treatment

The Addiction Problem

In 2006, 1.8 million people were admitted to drug treatment facilities in the U.S. About 32% of these were women.

Heroin admissions represented 13.7% of the total admissions in Pennsylvania. In 2007, 39% of the total admissions in New Jersey reported heroin as their primary drug.

Opiates other than heroin accounted for 4.2% of total admissions. Non-heroin opiates include codeine, morphine, opium, oxycodone, Dilaudid, Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and other drugs with morphine-like effects.

The 2003 National Survey also shows that 1.4 million Americans abuse or are dependent upon pain relievers and that 580,000 people used pain relievers non-medically for the first time in 2002.

8.2% of youths aged 12 to 17 needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem in 2006.

Contrary to popular stereotypes, about 76% of illicit drug users are employed either full or part time. Employed drug abusers cost their employers about twice as much in medical and worker compensation claims as their drug-free coworkers.

Approximately 11% of all children in the United States live with at least one parent who is in need of treatment for alcohol or drug dependency.

The Treatment Solution

Overall, treatment of addiction is as successful as treatment of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.

Of the various treatments available, Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT), combined with counseling and professional help for medical, psychiatric, and socioeconomic issues, has the highest probability of being effective.1

Methadone is one of the longest-established, most thoroughly evaluated forms of drug treatment. The science is overwhelming in its findings about methadone treatment’s effectiveness. For example, a Drug Abuse Treatment Outcomes Study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that methadone treatment reduced participants’ heroin use by 70%, reduced criminal activity by 57%, and increased full-time employment by 24%.2  It also reduces deaths—the median death rate of opiate-dependent individuals in treatment is 30 percent of the rate of those not in treatment.3

Suboxone was approved for addiction treatment in 2002. The active ingredient in Suboxone, buprenorphine hydrochloride, works to reduce the strong cravings of addiction while also reducing the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms. Unlike methadone, Suboxone can be prescribed in a doctor’s office rather than in a clinic.

Methadone and Suboxone are medically assisted treatments that work on many levels. They relieve opiate cravings (which are a major factor in relapse) and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Because they do not cause euphoria or intoxication, they help make it possible for a person to work and participate normally in society.

Research shows that drug addiction treatment reduces the risk of HIV infection. Drug injectors who do not enter treatment are up to six times more likely to become infected with HIV than injectors who enter and remain in treatment.

Treatment can improve the prospects for employment, with gains of up to 40% after a single treatment episode.

Comprehensive treatment is cost-effective. For example, the cost of methadone treatment is about $4,000 per year, while incarceration costs approximately $20,000 to $23,500 per year.4

  1. Effective Medical Treatment of Opiate Addiction NIH Consensus Statement 1997 Nov. 17–19; 15(6): 7.
  2. McCaffrey, Barry, Statement of ONDCP Director Barry McCaffrey on Mayor Giuliani’s Recent Comments on Methadone Therapy, (Press Release) (Washington, DC: ONDCP), July 24, 1998.
  3. CDC publication on IDU HIV Prevention. Methadone Maintenance Treatment, February 2002.
  4. Criminal Justice Institute, Inc., The Corrections Yearbook 1997 (South Salem, NY: Criminal Justice Institute, Inc., 1997) [estimating cost of a day in jail on average to be $55.41 a day or $20,237 a year and the cost of prison to be on average to be about $64.49 a day or $23, 554 a year].

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