Schwarzenegger budget cuts could hit methadone program for addicts

It is a craving so powerful that addicts will do almost anything to satisfy it.

For thousands of people hooked on heroin and other opiates, a daily swallow of methadone tames the demon and opens the door to a normal life.

But soon the synthetic narcotic, which for decades has been used as a controversial treatment for addiction, no longer may be an option for thousands of Californians.

As part of the effort to dig the state out of its massive budget hole, the Schwarzenegger administration has proposed cutting off Medi-Cal funding for "methadone maintenance" and other treatment programs to most addicts, saving the state $53 million.

Advocates who believe that methadone saves lives and lowers crime committed by society's most hard-core addicts are vigorously protesting the proposed cuts. Today, former federal drug czar Barry McCaffrey and others will try to convince lawmakers that slashing the program would backfire on the state.

"Dumping tens of thousands of opiate addicts back on the street would be an immediate disaster to law enforcement, and to the families of people who have become stable, functioning adults" thanks to methadone, said McCaffrey, who has a consulting firm and serves on the board of directors of an organization that treats chemical dependency.

Dr. John McCarthy, a psychiatrist who has treated opiate addicts for more than three decades, estimated that about 2,000 people are enrolled in methadone maintenance programs in the Sacramento area, and 70 to 80 percent are Medi-Cal patients.

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