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Are Methadone Moms Unfit to Keep Their Babies? - Page 2

By Maia Szalavitz 09/17/12

When an addict gets pregnant, doctors advise her to do methadone, not go cold turkey. But to child welfare officials, the woman is still a junkie—and a danger to her newborn.

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Methadone, pill or liquid photo via

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The legal and child welfare authorities get away with ignoring addiction science because everyone else ignores it, too. When leading “experts” like Dr. Drew or recovering celebs like Russell Brand recapitulate myths about maintenance, they enable the perpetuation of the problem.

If we are going to view addiction as a medical condition, we have to accept all the medical science—not just the parts we happen to like. The science shows conclusively that people like Rebecca generally do better on maintenance than off: since that’s true, maintenance needs to be an option for parents like her, for people throughout the entire system who are offered “treatment, not punishment.”

It’s not OK for drug courts to refuse to see maintenance as treatment. It’s not OK for methadone and buprenorphine to be denied to prisoners or to anyone else. If it’s not acceptable to deny insulin to diabetics or antidepressants to people with depression, why is it OK to deny FDA-approved treatments for addiction that are actually the standard of care? The only answer is because we let stigma and the view of addiction as a sin dominate.

Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone with an opioid addiction should be on maintenance for life, but it does mean that people should have that option: Neither type of recovery should be seen as superior. Instead, each person needs to find what works best for them.

"When they took him away he stopped talking. When we got him back, it took six months before he started again," Rebecca says.

Consequently, no one should be encouraged to stick with a treatment that has terrible side effects for them: Some people find methadone numbing, and they may need abstinence or a different maintenance drug; others find abstinence unsustainable and life without opioids unbearable, and they may need lifelong maintenance. In addiction treatment, as in medicine, one size doesn’t even fit most.

The reason we have science is to find what works in general, with the hope that ultimately we can find what works best for each specific case. And the reason we have laws is supposedly so we can have justice, which we will not see until people with addiction are viewed as fully human and medical science is applied to us just like anyone else.

“Methadone was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Rebecca says. "Without it, I don’t know where I’d be. People are trying to get better by taking methadone. But nothing they did was in the best interest of my child.”

Maia Szalavitz is a columnist at The Fix. She is also a health reporter at Time magazine online, and co-author, with Bruce Perry, of Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential—and Endangered (Morrow, 2010), and author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006).

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Maia Szalavitz is an author and journalist working at the intersection of brain, culture and behavior.  She has reported for Time magazine online, and is the co-author, with Bruce Perry, of Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential—and Endangered, and author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids. You can find her on Linkedin and  Twitter.

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