The Methadone Maze

A damning portrait of a methadone program in Maine:

For many people, the methadone program at Acadia Hospital has been a lifesaver, substituting a safe, monitored dose of liquid methadone for the dangerous and illegal street opiates abused by addicted clients.

In the best cases, these clients are able to resume their productive lives — finish their schooling, keep their jobs, care for their children. About 700 people are enrolled.

But attending the methadone clinic can be a daily exercise in frustration, anger and resentment. Brawling, harassment, intimidation and drug dealing are regular occurrences, some clients say, and the clinic staff rarely intervenes. This chaotic atmosphere at Acadia is a threat to their recovery, these clients allege — and it challenges public assumptions about the largely Medicaid-funded program.

But administrators at the hospital say that their clients’ antisocial and illegal activities are symptoms of the disease of drug addiction. Taking a hard line against such behavior would force too many clients out of treatment, they argue, undermining the goals of the program.

Speaking out

Danielle Eames-Powe, 22, has been a client at Acadia’s methadone clinic for two years. A drug user since she was 12, it was the birth of her daughter, Mabel, that made her seek treatment. She has been clean and sober for 2½ years now, she said, and works as a secretary for Bangor lawyer Joseph Baldacci.

Eames-Powe and her boyfriend, Bruce Raymond, also a client, told the Bangor Daily News that money and illicit drugs of all kinds change hands in the clinic’s waiting areas and parking lot. The staff looks the other way as these deals are made, they said, despite a largely unenforced rule that prohibits congregating, whispering or socializing on hospital property.

“A lot of them just make up their drug histories, so the clinic thinks they have a really big problem and gives them high doses of methadone,” Eames-Powe said. Some clients — many, according to Raymond — who are entrusted with take-home doses sell their methadone to buy more potent drugs for their own use.

In the long hallway where dozens of clients may wait 45 minutes or longer to get their daily dose, they said, fistfights and shouting matches often break out. The language is often extremely offensive. Many clients bring their young children with them, and those children watch and listen as their parents and other clients take part in these violent encounters.

Mandatory counseling sessions are pointless, Raymond said. Some clinicians are apathetic and negative; others are overwhelmed by the number of clients they must see.

Clients can choose between individual therapy or group counseling; Eames-Powe said she always chooses individual sessions.

“I attended one of the groups and it was despicable,” she said. “The people were nodding off, drooling, glorifying drugs, talking about how much they love getting high. I’ll never go to group again.”

Individual sessions aren’t much more valuable, she said.

“I’ve had nine different counselors in two years,” she said. “I just tell them the same story, my history. It doesn’t accomplish anything, but at least it’s confidential and you don’t have to sit next to a bunch of filthy people who are still using drugs.”

Eames-Powe said she is “desperate” to get out of the Acadia program. But clinicians insist on weaning her so slowly that she fears she’ll never be free of the demoralizing daily visits.

Ironically, she said, despite her good behavior, consistently negative drug tests and evident commitment to recovery, she’s ineligible for take-home doses — she’s considered “unstable” because she is weaning.

Read the rest here.

One thought on “The Methadone Maze

  1. Please see these videos and what actually goes on at clinics and Methadone is now the #2 Killer Drug in the U.S. This is a legal drug that has been thought to be safe for the past 40 years. Only recently when its use became approved for pain management patients has the cardio toxic risks emerged. Previously methadone has been used exclusively for replacement therapy for heroin patients and death was thought to be an effect of the accumulation of many years of drug abuse. With the surge in pain medication misuse and abuse more patients are being referred to methadone clinics and physicians treating pain who believe the myth that methadone is safer or non addictive because of it’s use with weaning addicts from heroin. Methadone is more addictive then any other pain medication including heroin and because of it’s extremely long half life, cardio toxic risks, numerous fatal drug interactions, dosages based on tolerance, and small margin of error. Up until Nov 2006 the government and pharmaceutical companies have been suppressing the numerous health and fatality risks related to methadone. there are between 800,000 & 900,000 (some stats give diff numbers) heroin addicts in the U.S and 1,881 people died from heroin in the U.S. in 2004. there are 200,000 people on methadone for drug treatment and I don’t have the number of people on it for pain but even if we double the 200,000 and assume it’s 400,000 total people on methadone there were 3,849 deaths in 2004 It looks like the “gold standard” is killing more then the drug its supposed to save people from!!!! Every day 10.9 people die from Methadone (according to 2004 stats, not including car accident deaths caused by drivers under the influence of Methadone) We (the families of methadone victims) are requesting new laws surrounding who can prescribe Methadone, clinic rules and regulations as well as stiffer penalties for those caught selling their take home doses. The whole methadone maintenance system needs an overhauling. We cannot continue to allow a legal medication to be killing more people then the illegal drugs. Our government cannot be allowed to use tax dollars to fund their legal drug dealing operations. We are asking government agencies to enact stricter guidelines in prescribing methadone for any reason. It must be mandatory that all doctors be certified and trained in the pharmacology of methadone; inpatient stays must be required during induction to methadone; all staff be extensively trained in monitoring methadone patients for symptoms of toxicity. Clinic patients should be tested weekly for legal and illegal drugs that are taken with methadone to get “ hi gh” or experience “euphoria” such as benzodiazepines, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, marijuana etc… and face severe consequences or mandatory detoxification from the methadone program after 3 dirty urines. Selling of take home doses must result in termination from methadone program permanently throughout the U.S. When presenting inebriated at clinic, clinic should also document such activity as well as prevent client from driving. Take home doses for all patients receiving methadone should be eliminated thus preventing the risk of diversion or precautions such as pill safe should be implemented. Current statistics show that nearly 4000 people a year die from methadone. These deaths are mostly happening to pain management and detoxification patients’ wit hi n the first 10 days of taking initial dose. Most of these deaths are related to methadone prescribed with other medications that react as additives with the methadone. Diversion of methadone is a serious problem because it lands t hi s most deadly drug on streets. Statistics also state that methadone is contributing to more deaths nationwide then heroin and only second to cocaine deaths. The potential of abuse, diversion, and overdose to new patients being prescribed methadone is overwhelming. The unique properties of methadone, it’s long half life, and it’s negative interaction with numerous drugs make it an optimal choice as a last result treatment for chronic pain and addiction. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. Sincerely Melissa

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