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'You feel you can't get a job': Methadone users face stigma and isolation, new report finds

The research examines the experiences of 25 people who have been on methadone treatment.

METHADONE TREATMENT IS effective in providing stability, but long-term users need a range of social interventions and supports, a new report has found.

The report – Just Maintaining the Status Quo? – found that long-term users need education, training, housing and family welfare supports, in addition to medical treatment.

The research examines the experiences of 25 people who have been on methadone treatment for 10 years or more. The average age of research participants was 43. 

The average age that research participants first used drugs was 14 years old. The average age that they first used heroin was 19 years old. 

Methadone treatment impacted participants’ lives positively by bringing stability and normality to their lives. 

However, they reported negative sentiments about methadone and the treatment system more broadly, feeling they had little say in their treatment, particularly in relation to long-term rehabilitation planning. 

Participants also reported having extremely low levels of social integration. The vast majority were unemployed and didn’t see any realistic prospect of employment. 

Many were homeless or precariously housed, with over half of the participants experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives. 

The report included comment from a number of participants about their experience of methadone management treatment. 

Bernie, aged 40-44, said: 

You feel you can’t get a job. Like what if your job starts at 9 o’clock and you haven’t got your Phy in you all day, d’you know what I mean … and then you’re thinking like ‘What if they ask for a medical?’. Even though they don’t know me, there is stigma. 

Eric, aged 35-39, said: 

That’s the one good thing about methadone … you’re stable, you can have somewhat of a normal life. I like the stability of methadone, I can just engage in family life, have a sup of tea and watch programmes and just have a chat. Before, I’d just stay in my room because I’d probably be stoned.

Ronnie, aged 45-49, said: 

So the whole family had to turn thier back on me and there was a lot of discord that I brought to that family. You know, when you’re an addict, especially when you’re a heroin addict, you don’t realise, you think that you’re only hurting yourself, but you don’t realise the whole family behind you and the disruption you can cause. 

The report was written by a team of researchers from Trinity College Dublin and commissioned by the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Drug and Alcohol Taskforce. 

Commenting at the launch today, Dr Paula Mayock said: “This is the first study in Ireland that specifically focuses on people who are long-term participants in methadone maintenance treatment.

“We found that levels of social reintegration amongst our participants was exceptionally low. Most did not have access to the kind of economic, social or personal resources that are needed to bolster and sustain the recovery process. 

“The dominant experience of being a methadone user was one of stigma, with many of those we engaged with for this research attempting to conceal their methadone use for fear of being judged. Stigma contributes to social isolation, with participants sharing with us how they felt excluded from community and family life.” 

The report was launched today by Minister for State Mary Mitchell O’Connor. 

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