Methadone Programs: A Bad Treatment Plan for Addicted Parents?

For parents, entering a methadone program can create serious problems.

When it comes to the negative effects of substance abuse, addiction casts a wide net. Addicted parents, in particular, are faced with a unique set of challenges, as an opiate dependency ultimately affects the whole family.

For thousands of parents hooked on opiates like heroin and OxyContin, methadone maintenance programs promise to open the doors of sobriety. What they don’t tell you, however, is that the rate of recovery among this specific demographic is dismal at best.

Parents Receiving Methadone Treatment

For opiate-addicted parents receiving treatment via methadone programs, the rate of recovery is dismally low, according to a 2011 study. Of the 144 parents in methadone treatment, only 13.2 percent of parents (19 people) remained in recovery and drug-free ten years later.

Another 14 (9.7 percent) met the criteria for recovery after 5 to 10 years. Ten could not be located or contacted. And 34 (24 percent) had died. The remaining 46 percent had either used drugs or were incarcerated.

Among the parents who participated in the Washington-area study, 41 percent said they had participated in some form of drug treatment every year, and 32 percent were in methadone treatment every year. For 43 percent, methadone use was intermittent.

The Snowball Effect of Methadone

While opiate addiction clearly has far-reaching negative effects, a core group of horrific problems are generally associated with a parent’s use of methadone. Those problems can include:

  • Legal Issues and Incarceration



    Arrests and convictions were common. A majority (90 percent) of the parents had some criminal record and 54 percent reported a period of incarceration over the last 10 years. This is compared to the 30 percent lifetime prevalence rate of arrests in the United States.
  • Overdose and Death



    Mortality rates are much higher for parents using methadone than for heroin users in general. Thirty-two (25 percent) of the 130 families in the study experienced the death of an addicted parent, and in 2 cases both parents had died before the 10-year follow-up interview. This compares to a 7.5 percent mortality rate in the general population of Washington State, and a 14.8 percent mortality rate among heroin users in the Seattle area.
  • Mental Health Problems



    Mental health issues were more prevalent among the study participants than in the overall population. Researchers found that nearly half (48 percent) of the parents met the criteria for a major depressive disorder in the last ten years, and 21 percent said their mental health was not good every day.
  • Lack of Employment



    Unemployment rates were also significantly higher among the parents in the study than the overall population. More than half (52 percent) of parents said they were not employed in the year prior to the follow-up interview, whereas the overall unemployment rate for Washington State was 5.5 percent in 2005.
  • Homelessness



    Homelessness was also a problem for many of the parents. More than a third (36 percent) reported at least one year not having a place to live, in the past decade. Men and women were equally likely to have experienced homelessness. And four parents reported being homeless during the entire 10-year period. Parents in long-term recovery were less likely to have been homeless (5.3 percent) compared to those in shorter term recovery (35.7 percent) or those still using drugs (44.8 percent).

The Ultimate Victims

The study also illustrates how a parent’s addiction impacts their children. Most of the children of study participants had struggled in school or at work, had abused drugs and/or had a criminal record. Only 24 percent of the children met criteria for “functional resilience” which meant they were engaged in school or work, had not abused drugs, and had avoided criminal charges in the last five years.

Overall, the study offers some insight into the struggles of parents who are struggling with a drug addiction. It also illustrates the likelihood of being gainfully employed, maintaining a home, enjoying good health and providing a functional home life are far more likely if they are able to get clean and maintain long-term recovery.




Additional Reading: Outlook on Opiate Abuse: There’s Good News and Bad News

Image Source: iStock

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