In developed countries around the globe, the standard of care for opiate addiction is what's known as "medically assisted treatment." Under a doctor's supervision, people with addictive disorders are prescribed medications like methadone, buprenorphine and Suboxone, which remove the cravings associated with opiate addiction.
In the U.S., however, by far the most common form of treatment is based around the concept of strict abstinence. Advocates of the abstinence model consider the use of Suboxone or methadone to be tantamount to using heroin itself. Many in the medical establishment oppose the abstinence model -- as do officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration -- and a recent Huffington Post investigation found that the bias in favor of abstinence is costing the lives of those it regularly fails. Over 90 percent of people treated with the abstinence method will relapse.
“If somebody has a heroin dependence and they did not have the possibility to be offered methadone or Suboxone, then I think it’s a fairly tall order to try and get any success,” Dr. Bankole Johnson, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told The Huffington Post previously. “There have been so many papers on this -- the impact of methadone and Suboxone. It’s not even controversial. It’s just a fact that this is the best way to wean people off an opioid addiction. It’s the standard of care.”
Even so, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds that the American people largely come down on the opposite side of the scientists.
Asked whether it's more effective for heroin addicts to detox completely and attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings, or for them to receive synthetic opiates under medical supervision, 50 percent of Americans chose the abstinence option, and just 19 percent favored the use of synthetic opiates. Another 32 percent were unsure.
That gap in opinion narrowed only somewhat after people were presented with common arguments for and against the use of synthetic drugs.
Forty percent of people said that synthetic drugs like Suboxone or methadone are more dangerous than helpful, because "it’s more important to get people off drugs entirely, even if that means recovery is more difficult." Just 24 percent of respondents were sympathetic to the argument that such medications are more helpful than dangerous, since "the approved drugs are safer than heroin or pills bought on the street." Another 36 percent remained unsure.
Republicans were especially likely to favor an abstinence-based approach to drug treatment, with 65 percent preferring a program of cold turkey with NA meetings, and 54 percent saying synthetic drugs are more dangerous than helpful. Democrats agreed with those positions, but by smaller margins.
Most Americans are also uneasy about the idea of having a clinic dispensing drugs nearby. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they'd be somewhat or very uncomfortable with having a methadone clinic in their neighborhood, while just 26 percent said they'd be very or somewhat comfortable.
The issue of heroin addiction, while not unknown, remains remote to many people. Only about one-third of Americans say they know someone who's addicted to heroin or another opiate, and just 3 percent of respondents said they'd ever consider trying the drug, even if it were made legal.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Jan. 16-20 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.