“Methadone was sold to me by drug and alcohol counselors as the miracle cure. It wasn’t,” said William Addis.
Addis, a recovering addict who has been clean for five years, believes the only cure for drug addiction is abstinence.
He has operated “Sober House” on Gallatin Avenue in Uniontown for more than four years. “The House” as Addis calls it, is a place where men, addicted to drugs or alcohol, can get clean and sober through the assistance of a mentor and a 12-step program.
“If you think about it this way — using drugs is dirty, getting clean is not using drugs. It’s much easier to say it than do it,” Addis said. “You have to be willing to make changes and address the underlying problems. It’s a structure that people need to stay clean. Methadone does not address the underlying behavioral problems.”
According to the online Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, methadone is used in the long-term maintenance treatment of narcotic addiction. Both heroin and methadone are opioids and, therefore, they bind to the same places in the brain. Methadone is used for the treatment of narcotic addiction, and patients don’t experience the “high” associated with the drug of abuse.
The dose of methadone may then be decreased over time so that the person can overcome his or her opioid addiction without experiencing withdrawal symptoms, according to the website.
Addis, 41, admits his addiction began at the age of 12, when he started drinking. By 20, he said he was a full-blown addict who was kicked out of the U.S. Marine Corps for his destructive habits. Addiction to drugs, from alcohol to heroin, cost him jobs, family, his marriage and friends.
Addis was in rehab eight times for his heroin addiction and did two rounds of methadone maintenance.
“I had to wake up at 5:30 every day and drive to Washington County and be in line early enough to get methadone and then go to work. I had to do that every day, because, if I didn’t, I would become violently ill,” said Addis. “The detox from methadone is much worse than heroin. You get much sicker, so you really are motivated to get up and go.”
Addis recalled standing in line at the methadone clinic with people who would take valium, a benzodiazepine drug, and sell it to other addicts.
“Mixing ‘benzos’ with methadone gives you the same high as heroin,” said Addis.
His first methadone maintenance amount was 30 milligrams.
“I was fine on 30 milligrams. I wasn’t high. I wasn’t dope sick. The next day, when I went to the clinic, the lady asked me how I felt, and she asked me if I wanted more. Of course, I said yes. Why wouldn’t I? I was a drug addict,” Addis said.
In just a few months, Addis went from 30 milligrams to 160 milligrams of methadone each day.
“My body had built up that kind of tolerance to it,” he said. “Otherwise, that much methadone would kill a person.”
Dr. Jeffrey Frye, medical director of the department of emergency medicine at Uniontown Hospital, believes methadone, when used properly, has its purpose and niche. But use of the Schedule II narcotic isn’t monitored closely enough, defeating its purpose, he said.
“People are continued on high doses and not weaned off of it. People that are chronically on methadone, it’s safer than using a dirty needle and injecting heroin, but it’s not being used to bring people off the drug as it was purposed,” said Frye.
Frye believes stricter guidelines and a better monitoring system are needed for using methadone to get addicts through withdrawal.
“Narcotic withdrawal is a very uncomfortable process. So much so, it leads people back to heroin. If it’s used properly, methadone can help people,” Frye said.
Improper use of methadone has also increased emergency room visits, Frye said.
Addis cited statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) that 5,000 people die in the U.S. each year from methadone overdoses, and the number of people taken to emergency rooms for overdosing on methadone was six times greater in 2009 than a decade earlier.
In his experience with methadone maintenance, Addis learned that he could go to a clinic and his insurance would pay for the methadone, which he would then exchange for other drugs.
“I didn’t know what I was trying to do on methadone. I had a raging drug problem and wanted to make things better but discovered it’s (clinics) a gathering place for getting a legal drug and exchanging it for illegal drugs,” said Addis.
Addis believes the entire approach taken by many drug rehabilitative programs is flawed.
“Counselors say things like, ‘Don’t beat yourself up,’ ‘It’s not your fault,’ ‘You have a disease’ and ‘Take your medicine (methadone).’ At the time, I didn’t know any better,” he said. “How are you going to say to someone, who by definition is mentally deficient and under the influence of an extremely mood- and mind-altering chemical, take your medication as prescribed, don’t use any other drugs and tell the truth? The obsession is far more powerful than naive, little statements like that,” Addis said.
During his eighth rehab stint, Addis said he met people “who were about something.”
“They said it’s absolutely your fault, you’re a liar, you don’t love your kids and you’re going to end up dead, leaving everyone heartbroken. I had gotten to the point I was able to hear that.”
Addis said getting clean is not about exchanging one drug for another but about changing behavior and principles.
“It boiled down to I had to change my behavior and my principles and find a code to live by,” Addis said. “They guaranteed me that I would stay clean. I latched on to that like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver.”
Throughout his recovery, Addis said, he has encountered hundreds of addicts, none of which has found methadone helpful.
“It doesn’t address any of the underlying problems. (Methadone) doesn’t have any recognition of the facts of what it is to be a drug addict. Drug addicts use drugs of any kind. As much as they can get their hands on, and they will do so much, it eventually kills them. Methadone does not address any of that. The only thing that methadone does is make money for the people who run the clinics.”
Addis likens clinics to a rat in a Skinner box — an engineered chamber used to study animal behavior, teaching the animals to perform certain actions in response to specific stimuli.
“It’s the same behavior for the addict; the same mentality as getting drugs from a dealer.”
Addis feels strongly that using methadone and other synthetic opioids, like Suboxone and Vivitrol, to treat opioid dependence simply delays the inevitable. Living drug free, Addis said, begins with truth and abstaining from drug use.
“When you come down off methadone, you get dope sick. So there’s no way around the dope sick,” Addis said. “To blow methadone up as some kind of miracle cure gives false hope to people.”