The White House plan to help heroin addicts sounds simple: Doctors would dispense methadone, a synthetic substance designed to lessen heroin cravings, in their offices for the first time.
But for now, the new policy doesn't include any money - just a government endorsement for improving and expanding the use of methadone."Methadone treatment is simply not available for Americans in all parts of the country in a manner called for by rational drug policy. We've got to do better," Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the White House National Drug Policy director, told a meeting of the American Methadone Treatment Association in New York on Tuesday.
There are an estimated 810,000 chronic heroin users in the United States, but only about 115,000 are receiving methadone. It is dispensed at about 900 clinics only at certain times, making it difficult for some addicts to hold jobs and get treatment.
At least five states have barred methadone: Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.
In unveiling the policy, McCaffrey said study after scientific study has shown that methadone not only eliminates the misery of heroin addiction but makes it possible for addicts to lead productive lives, hold down jobs and stay away from crime.
While the policy endorses the expansion of methadone treatment, it won't immediately increase the number of methadone providers either in clinics or private practice.
Asked about federal funds for implementing the policy, McCaffrey said, "The money will follow, first the policy."