What Made Russians Ban Methadone Treatment for Heroin Addiction?

When the Soviet Union fell and greater freedoms became available to its citizens, an undesirable side effect of this change was greater access to narcotics. In particular, heroin. And, as in many other countries, along with a heroin epidemic comes HIV infections resulting from the sharing of needles used to inject heroin. Estimates of the number of heroin addicts vary from three million to six million of the country’s 142 million citizens.

Like in America, some Russian doctors propose the use of substitution therapy with methadone. But unlike America, the treatment of heroin addiction with methadone is illegal. In fact, the discussion of the subject is forbidden, as is the promotion of the treatment on a website. Sometimes, even the mentioning it in conversation can bring legal sanctions down on a person.

In 2006, an influential anti-methadone article was published in the Russian Medical Newspaper, then reprinted and distributed to drug addiction treatment specialists. The article claims that the methadone will be subject to illegal diversion and that heroin addicts are kept addicted while the pharmaceutical companies make a profit. Passions run high as medical and government officials bicker back and forth on risk reduction through substitute drugs that keep people from injecting heroin illegally, and other forms of treatment.

“If harm reduction is one’s only goal, then methadone may be a viable treatment,” stated Derry Hallmark, Director of Admissions and at Narconon Arrowhead. Narconon Arrowhead is one of the country’s leading drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, located in Canadian, Oklahoma. “However, if a person’s goal is to live drug-free, then methadone may not be the best option to treat heroin or opiate addiction. Some drug treatment professionals may keep a person on methadone substitution for a long time, meaning that the person does not learn to live drug-free on their own.”

The Narconon program is a fully drug-free program, meaning that every participant goes through a withdrawal step at the beginning of the program, assisted by nutritional support and physical exercises that calm and extrovert the person and relieve the discomfort of withdrawal. This is followed by a sauna program that uses a dry-heat combined with nutrition and an exercise program. This step flushes out old drug residues that may be connected with cravings. With lowered or eliminated cravings, the former addict is now free to take part in the counseling that allows them to leave guilt and depression behind, and learn the life skills that can enable them to make drug-free decisions in the future.

“The Narconon program offers a viable alternative for the person who wishes to experience life without any reliance on drugs,” added Mr. Hallmark. “Our seventy percent success rate means that we are able to return many drug-free individuals to productive lives.”