RENEE ORDWAY

It’s time to spread the health when it comes to methadone treatment

Posted March 29, 2013, at 5:55 p.m.
Courtesy of Renee Ordway

Perhaps it’s a good time to ask the question.

What has the presence of three methadone clinics in Bangor done for the city?

In 2000, when the community was struggling with whether to allow one clinic to open, residents attending crowded community forums were told that a clinic could reduce heroin use by 70 percent and decrease crime by 56 percent.

Instead, drug-related crimes in Bangor increased from 154 in 2010 to 237 in 2011, according to reports in the Bangor Daily news, and violent crimes increased by 35 percent in that span. In 2000, 60 people died of drug overdoses in Maine. In 2009, that increased to 179, the BDN reported.

In 2010, Bangor had the highest crime rate in the state, nearly triple the statewide average, according to the BDN.

A r ecent story in the BDN revealed the state spends $7 million in transportation costs getting methadone clients to the nine clinics around the state.

That’s just $2 million less than the state pays for the entire methadone program.

Officials will quietly acknowledge the abuse going on. Four people from northern Maine sharing daily rides to a Bangor clinic, yet charging the state separately for their mileage, for example.

The client living with her boyfriend in Bangor, yet charging the state daily round-trip mileage from her parents’ home 75 miles away.

But those examples are apparently just the cost of doing business and, though acknowledged as a real problem, have no solution.

That $7 million figure should not be met with a hapless shrug. Someone should be pounding a fist on a legislative conference table somewhere and insisting that something change.

Proponents of methadone treatment need to acknowledge its pitfalls and the very real burden the cities that house them have endured.

Those proponents need to get to the table with the leaders of those communities and state officials to fix what is broken, and there is a lot broken.

This week, the Bangor City Council backed a bill entitled “An Act to Reduce Costs and Increase Access to Methadone Treatment.”

It would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to license federally qualified health centers, health care providers or medical practitioners as methadone treatment clinics.

When I asked one Bangor official who was involved in the development of the idea for the bill whether it would have the support of the Office of Substance Abuse, he hesitated.

“Well, we met with them, and, well, they understand our concerns (with what has happened in Bangor) but, well, let’s just say they are sympathetic,” the official said.

The city of Bangor does not need the state’s sympathy. It needs the state’s support.

I tried calling OSA Director Guy Cousins to find out the department’s position on the bill, but was told I could contact him only by email. I did, but received no response.

Certainly such a bill, if passed, would require a big change in the oversight and licensing of methadone clinics. Clinics, for example, would need to be redefined.

A huge task with copious amounts of red tape I’m sure, but it is the exact direction the state needs to take if methadone continues to be the treatment of choice for the thousands of opiate addicts across the state.

The bill would allow addicts to receive treatment in their own backyards without hours of travel time each day. Proponents of methadone say clients receiving treatment lead productive lives and hold jobs.

It must be a challenge to battle the addiction and keep productive when spending an hour or two or more driving back and forth to Bangor each day.

Surely proponents of the treatment should be pressing for better access to it.

It’s time for the state, in particular the Department of Health and Human Services, to acknowledge the very real problems faced by the communities with methadone clinics and to advocate for better access for methadone clients by increasing the number of locations for treatment.

This bill is a starting point for those discussions.

Concerned citizens should not feel the need to be silent about the negative effects of the clinics because of proponents who accuse them of discriminating against people with the disease of addiction.

That’s a cop-out.

Face the crime issues, the increased drug activity and system failures and abuses that accompany methadone clinics so that a real and helpful discussion can begin about how to improve treatment.

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