The Current

Methadone treatment overused in Ontario, addiction experts warn

As the number of methadone patients grows, some say the cure is becoming worse than the disease — do recovering addicts need another treatment option?
There are recovering addicts who credit methadone with saving their life, but some experts are calling for a 'differentiated treatment approach.' (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

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Methadone was once reserved for heroine addicts, but in recent years the number of patients using the treatment has risen to over 50,000. 

As methadone has become the go-to treatment for those hooked on painkillers, such as oxycontin and fentanyl, experts are warning that what was once seen as a cure is now becoming a problem in itself.   

Methadone is the 'default first line of treatment' for recovering addicts, but Ontario is now considering Suboxone since it's less addictive with fewer chances of a fatal overdose. (CBC)

While there are methadone patients receiving help from the treatment, experts like Benedikt Fischer worry about people being prescribed it "indiscriminately." Methadone is a maintenance treatment, which means there must be eventual plans for lowering a patient's dosage. However, due to its addictive nature, several patients become lifelong methadone users — risking fatal overdoses.

I'm very much still an addict so I don't want to risk going back into that lifestyle. If methadone is able to keep me stable ... then I'm completely happy with that. It's given me my life back.- Kelly Lanktree is concerned about the increasing stigma against methadone

But doctors like Dr. David Marsh believe now is not the time to decrease access to methadone since it's the "most effective evidence based treatment" that is currently available.

Guests in this segment:

  • Kelly Lanktree, recovering prescription opioid addict, methadone patient and blogger.
  • Benedikt Fischer, senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. 
  • Dr. David Marsh, medical director of Ontario Addiction Treatment Centres and deputy dean of community engagement at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins and Marc Apollonio.