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All These Years Later, Methadone is Still a Complicated Question

| April 26, 2011

Today, The Atlantic is running a new piece on an old question: is methadone treatment is sensible way to address opiate addiction among prison inmates?

The writer, Jessica Wapner, comes down gingerly in favor of MMT (methadone maintenance treatment), in part because of the cost-savings that it may present: “One comprehensive study found a cost benefit to taxpayers of $4.00 for every dollar spent on MMT. In other words, drug addicts cost the country more than recovering drug addicts. Drug use carries a high risk of hepatitis C and HIV transmission, both costly to treat, and of course takes a toll on the criminal justice system and many other taxpayer-funded services.”

Critics of MMT, however, raise the reasonable point that the treatment may simply be replacing one addiction with another.  Rudy Giuliani, in particular, took a famous stance against methadone in the 1990s, saying ”[i]f it’s necessary for transition, then of course it should be used for transition….If you’re going to keep somebody permanently enslaved to methadone for the rest of their lives, then I have real questions about your common sense.”

Either way, conservatives need to be thinking hard about how to address opiate addiction because its correlation to crime is virtually beyond debate.  A 1997 National Institute of Health study indicated that an astonishing 95% of heroin addicts committed a crime over the course of an eleven-year observation period.


RIGHT ON CRIME is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy—reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money. By sharing research and policy ideas and mobilizing strong conservative voices, we work to raise awareness of the growing support for effective reforms within the conservative movement. We are transforming the debate on criminal justice in America.