Methadone: Legal consequences

Last modified: Monday, 1. June 2009 - 6:09 am

Legal consequences of Methadone

The penalties for illegally using and distributing methadone are severe. Methadone is classified as a Schedule II substance. For illegal possession of methadone, the penalty (for first offenders) for possession of greater than 100 g is a fine of not more than four million dollars. The penalty for a second offense is a fine of no more than eight million dollars.
The penalties for trafficking illegal methadone are even more severe. For a first offense, the penalty can be up to 20 years in prison. For a second offense, the penalty can be up to 30 years in prison.

Legal history

Methadone began to be used as a treatment for heroin addiction in the 1960s. In 1963, Dr. Vincent Dole, an expert in metabolic disorders, and Dr. Marie Nyswander, a psychiatrist who had worked in the U.S. Public Health facility for heroin addicts in Lexington, Kentucky, began experimenting with several drugs to help addicts recover from their addiction. The doctors discovered that when heroin addicts were given methadone, their behavior radically changed. Suddenly, instead of focusing on getting more heroin, the focus of the addict’s attention turned away from drugs and to pursuits in life they had had before they were addicted to heroin. Dr. Dole and Dr. Nyswander realized that once a heroin addict was given an adequate treatment dose of methadone, that person could remain on the same dose for a long period of time and function almost as well as they did when they were not addicts.
Within a year, Nyswander and Dole had developed a methadone maintenance treatment program. They based their program on the idea that heroin addicts suffer from a metabolic disorder much as a person with diabetes suffers from a metabolic disorder. They reasoned that just as insulin stabilizes a person with diabetes, methadone could stabilize a person with a heroin addiction. However, even though Nyswander and Dole viewed their program as a physical treatment for a physiological disorder, they also used intense psychological counseling services to help their patients get over their addiction. This new form of treatment for heroin addiction spread rapidly over the next few years, and by 1972 there were more than 800 methadone maintenance programs in the United States.

Federal guidelines, regulations, and penalties

Since the passage of the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914 by the U.S. Congress, the federal government has been involved in the control of narcotics and the treatment of addicts. In terms of treatment of narcotic addicts, the federal government opened facilities in Lexington, Kentucky, and Fort Worth, Texas, between 1936 and 1939 to help deal with the rising number of opiate addicts in the United States.
After the development of methadone maintenance programs in the mid-1960s, the federal government, through the action of the 1966 Narcotic Addiction Rehabilitation Act, authorized the civil commitment of narcotic addicts, as well as giving federal finanical assistance to states and local authorities to develop a local system of drug treatment programs. The act required that these treatment programs include mandatory three-times-a-week counseling sessions; weekly urine tests; restorative dental services; and psychological counseling and vocational training.
In 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act was enacted into federal law. One purpose of the act was to clarify the ways in which medical personnel could legally dispense methadone to heroin addicts. In order to further clarify heroin treatment parameters, the Narcotic Addict Treatment Act of 1974 was passed, which set forth minimum standards for all methadone treatment facilities, as well as setting standard definitions for addicts. In the 1980s, these regulations were amended to allow younger patients (ages 16-18) to legally enter treatment programs. The regulations passed in the 1980s are still in effect today.

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