Liberating Methadone: Insights on Stigma, Science, and Staffing

October 18th, 2023 | viewpoint


Two weeks ago, JSI colleagues representing the newly funded Massachusetts Opioid Treatment Program Training and Technical Assistance Center attended the “Liberating Methadone: Building a Roadmap & Community for Change” conference in New York City.

Over two packed days, community leaders, advocates, and professionals across medical, grassroots, and policy settings discussed and deliberated fair and equitable access to methadone treatment. We look forward to the publication of these proceedings after they are compiled into a final report with suggestions to improve opioid treatment programs (OTPs).

The three most salient takeaways were related to stigma, science, and staffing.


Stigma is the largest barrier to methadone treatment. Public stigma is reinforced by stereotypes and negative representations of people with opioid use disorders (OUDs). Politically and socially generated stigma are leading causes of pushback on methadone availability and treatment. Stigma undermines OTP ability to stabilize the opioid crisis. Demystifying stigma will increase advocacy, accessibility, and equity in the movement for fair access to treatment.


Science has proven that methadone helps individuals achieve and sustain recovery. Methadone is safe supply. However, as we know, science alone is not enough; it must be paired with community input. Patient experience is repeatedly overlooked in policy development. Recognizing that people seeking treatment are experts in their own lives restores patient control and improves health outcomes. Researchers need to develop mechanisms that prioritize and use patient experience to inform systemic change.


A lack of staffing is a key gap in our ability to provide and upkeep methadone provision. Expanding the roles under which people are able to dispense methadone will increase retention and care quality in OTPs. For example, Boston Medical Center’s Bridge Clinic “Faster Paths” program allows non-OTP physicians to administer methadone to treat withdrawal for up to 3 days while arranging ongoing treatment. Innovations like this improve patient access to methadone and allows frontline staff to maximize treatment provision.

Our team left the conference inspired by the personal stories of resilience shared. Thank you to community groups, such as the National Survivors Union and the National Coalition to Liberate Methadone, that collaborated with conference host NYU Langone Health’s Center for Opioid Epidemiology, and speakers Lousie Vincent, Ayanna Jordan, Kimberly Sue, and Caty Simon (to name a few), for working to liberate methadone.

By Shaivi Herur, Project Associate

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