Drug treatment specialists, former users battling methadone stigma

Baltimore City considering changes to treatment
Posted at 11:22 PM, Jul 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-31 23:29:52-04

Former heroin abusers say that fighting addiction is hard enough, let alone the stigma that comes with some forms of treatment.

Earlier this month, Mayor Catherine Pugh said she's considering changes after learning that there have been 233 shootings this year near city methadone clinics. She's calling on city, state and federal leaders to find ways to treat users "in a more responsible way that doesn't destroy neighborhoods, doesn't destroy communities, and doesn't destroy people."

Some working with recovering users found the comments insensitive.

BMORE Power member Ricky Morris says he's used methadone to turn his own life around.

"There's more violence in the hood, in the neighborhoods that people come from," Morris said. "It just so happens that methadone clinics are needed in these neighborhoods."

Some drug treatment advocates are warning city leaders about moving methadone clinics out of Baltimore. They say that blaming clinics for crime is reinforcing an already powerful stigma against patients.

"These folks are criminalized," says nurse Molly Greenberg with Nurses For Justice, "When you perpetuate a stigma, that's the first way to decrease trust in the community. Trust goes out the window."

Harriet Smith, director of Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition says that stigma can keep some from ever seeking help.

"It makes getting help something that you have to be extremely brave to do when you're most vulnerable," Smith said.

A 2016 Johns Hopkins study found that violent crime is lower near drug treatment facilities than it is around businesses like corner stores or liquor stores.