At a recent townhall meeting, Congressman Tom Rice pointed out the statistics we face with the opioid-heroin crisis, “2.4 million Americans struggle with opioid addiction, a 50 percent increase over the last decade. … If there’s 2.4 million people struggling with it, then we need a million more beds.” In the same article, The Sun News reported that in Horry County 49 people died from opioid overdoses in 2014, 78 in 2015 and 101 in 2016.
What is a workable answer to this problem? We need to look back at the experimental methadone maintenance and treatment plan put out in the 1970s in Washington D.C. Over the past three years, I have been advocating that we look at it, with little interest because of the widespread negative feelings toward methadone and its chief advocate President Richard Nixon. But the bottom line is, it works, and it is time to do what works.
The Washington Post reported in its Oct. 26 article by Lenny Bernstein, “Research shows that medication — assisted treatment (MAT) with drugs like methadone is the most effective approach, it reduces overdoses, keeps people in treatment, and stops the number of relapses, but only 10 percent of drug treatment facilities offer it.” Another article, published in 2014 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stated “That Methadone, when administered in the context of an addiction treatment program, effectively help maintain abstinence from other opioids. reduce opioid use disorder related symptoms and reduces the rise in infectious diseases and Crime.” Let me stress the latter, it reduces crime.
That is what was discovered when the D.C. program was first implemented. President Nixon sent a task force into the D.C. jail and had them study what was driving the crime problem. They discovered a direct link between heroin addiction and crime at the rate of 44 percent. They decided that the best way to stop it was to treat the root cause, heroin addiction. It worked, crime plummeted, and the Nixon administration was about to go national with a comprehensive plan of methadone maintenance, combined with money for treatment and education when Watergate occurred.
It is time we dust it off and look at it again. This approach, combined with our drug court, and Councilman Phil Render’s idea of a county wide drug czar to coordinate all efforts, are good solutions. We just need the money, the will, and the common sense. As I leave public office, my hope is that those who follow will put all of this together and we can move beyond this problem.
Randal Wallace, outgoing Myrtle Beach city councilman