Testimony before the City Council of Everett
April 16, 2003
Andrew Ko, Director
Drug Policy Reform Project
American Civil Liberties Union of Washington
Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the provision of opiate substitution treatment in Everett.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington strongly supports the availability of professional methadone treatment and other opiate substitution programs in all communities where residents suffer from addiction to heroin and other opiates.
People who are dependent on heroin and other opiates live in this community. People addicted to heroin may be your coworkers, neighbors or family members. Most of them will never show obvious indications of their drug dependence or ever come to the attention of law enforcement – especially if they are not impoverished and never resort to property crimes or other illegal activities to support their addiction.
Methadone and other opiate substitution programs are an effective remedy for the public, family and personal problems caused by heroin and other opiates.
Methadone treatment programs benefit the public and communities in which they are established by:
- Dramatically reducing theft of property, prostitution and other drug-related crimes,
- Reducing the market for illegal drugs,
- Slowing the recruitment of new opiate users, and
- Greatly stabilizing the lives of people from your community who are opiate dependent.
Methadone treatment programs benefit drug-dependent individuals and their families by:
- Removing the threat of arrest and incarceration,
- Restoring employability and parenting ability, which can be hampered by both the effects of taking drugs and by the pain of withdrawal, and
- Removing the need to fund an expensive drug addiction, which causes financial hardship to the drug-dependent person and his or her family,
I know of no credible evidence that locating a methadone or other regulated opiate substitution program in a community or particular location has caused increased crime. On the contrary, the availability of methadone treatment has been shown to reduce crime rates and increase employability in communities affected by opiate-addiction. However, to be effective in curing the social problems associated with opiate addiction, methadone treatment must be readily available and near to where opiate-dependent people live, work and raise their families.
There is an enormous amount of prejudice in society against people who have become addicted to opiates – much of it the result of misinformation and misrepresentation by the popular media. This is one reason that drug-dependent people who are seeking treatment are legally designated as disabled and protected by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. No matter how a person becomes addicted to opiates, it is a medical problem and a physiological need that must be addressed.
People seeking to participate in methadone programs have, by definition, made the decision to end their dependence on dangerous illegal drugs. These people face the most difficult challenge of their lives. Forcing them to seek treatment in other counties – or not at all – would be a lost opportunity both to save them and strengthen this community.
Losing this opportunity to provide opiate substitution treatment will result in:
- Continued and unnecessary waste of police resources to enforce drug laws that would not otherwise be violated by opiate-dependant people,
- Continued drug trafficking to satisfy a market for heroin and other street drugs,
- Continued property crime, and
- Continued misery for many people in this community and their families.
An opiate substitution program, such as methadone treatment, is the cure for these problems, not the cause.
Opiate substitution treatment is safe – both for the individual and the community. It has been proven to be medically sound and supported by good public policy.
Methadone treatment saves lives. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington asks that the City of Everett not delay issuance of the necessary permits to make opiate substitution treatment available in this community.