Methadone program cuts defended

The Department of Social Development is defending its decision to cut back on travel subsidies given to methadone patients.

Social Development says new program will be more sustainable

The Department of Social Development is standing by a decision to scale back on travel subsidies given to methadone patients.

Mark Barbour, a spokesperson for the department, said the provincial government made the decision because the current medical transportation benefit program was unsustainable.

"It was all one great big budget, and methadone became the major element of it, so by saving and creating this new program, now we'll ensure that the long-term sustainability of the whole transportation supplement is there for medical reasons for all," he said.

The number of addicts relying on provincial help to get to and from methadone clinics each day has risen to almost 1,400 since 2004.

These individuals account for almost a third of the provincial government's medical transportation budget, which is funding that is set aside to help those on social assistance get to medical appointments.

"It was not designed for clients to pick up their daily prescription of medications such as the methadone in pharmacies and the clinics," Barbour said.

The travel subsidy used to be available indefinitely. But the provincial government is now limiting clients to $200 a month and is cutting it off after 18 months.

Barbour said that is the amount of time it takes addicts to stabilize and recover.

Julie Dingwell, the executive director with AIDS Saint John, said the provincial government is ending the subsidy too early for people in the methadone program.

"I've never known anybody ... to go in the program and to finish the program in 18 months. I've never know that to happen — ever," Dingwell said.

Barbour said each case can be reviewed after 18 months, to see if the travel expense will continue.

Liberal MLA Bernard LeBlanc, the opposition's social development critic, said the provincal government is reducing costs in the wrong places.

"A small program like this makes a big impact – it gives a person trying to overcome their addiction the resources to get well. Many individuals can’t afford the cab or bus fare to and from their methadone clinic," LeBlanc said in a statement.

"Instead of cutting methadone programs, perhaps Premier [David] Alward could stop using the government plane to go to $500-a-plate Conservative fundraisers on the weekends. The cost of that one flight alone would give over 50 people a monthly bus pass."