There’s nothing greater than living,” says Ellis (above), who takes methadone. “We all want to live.”
Evidence shows that methadone is the most effective treatment for opioid use disorder, cutting mortality by half or more. But a new feature-length documentary takes audiences on a journey across the planet to reveal differing, but often highly restrictive access to the medication. It unpacks the suffering imposed by methadone distribution regimes—impacting patients’ mobility, agency and chances of staying alive.
Liquid Handcuffs: A Documentary to Free Methadone premiered April 29 at the Harm Reduction International conference in Porto, Portugal, to prolonged applause. It is co-directed by Filter editor and contributor Helen Redmond and Marilena Marchetti. With on-the-ground footage of methadone recipients and providers in a Bond-movie variety of locations—Afghanistan, Britain, India, Portugal, Russia and the United States—it enters clinics and drug-use settings that are too often unseen.
“We spent five years making this film, traveling across the world to do it,” said Redmond. “We made that commitment because we want to use this as an advocacy tool for something so important: making methadone available to everyone who wants it. It is an abuse of human rights to deny access to this lifesaving medication. The power-imbalances in different methadone dispensation systems are also egregious.”
“The dozens of people we interviewed really opened our eyes to the severity of discrimination against people who take methadone,” said Marchetti. “It’s nothing short of pharmacological apartheid. For example, Anthony, a formerly incarcerated man from New York, compared having to go to the clinic every day and be observed urinating into a cup to his time at Rikers Island, or when he was on parole. It’s degrading, it’s demeaning, he told us. And so many others around the world experience similar.”