Home > All Posts > Methadone Treatments Can Be A Slippery Slope

Methadone Treatments Can Be A Slippery Slope

A Prescription For Trouble


Editor’s Note:  This article is the third in a series looking at the growing prescription drug problem in Onslow County, North Carolina.

By Lindell Kay Daily News Staff Writer  August 15, 2008   Workers at a local methadone clinic say they want to dispel the myth that they are legalized drug dealers.

The Jacksonville Treatment Center on Bell Fork Road offers opiate addicts a chance to function normally in society, said Melissa Nobles, a counselor at the clinic.

Retired Marine Sgt. Major David Evans, a clinic case manager, said much of the stigma surrounding methadone clinics comes from the notion that most of the patients are heroin junkies receiving a fix.

“Heroin addicts make up only 3% of our patients,” he said. “The vast majority of our patients are hooked on prescription pain pills. Painkillers are the new heroin. The days of the street corner drug dealers are over. You can pick up a phone, make a call and have pills delivered like ordering a pizza.”

Opiates – painkillers prescribed by doctors for legitimate reasons – significantly reduce the production of endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that allow a person to feel pleasure. Addicts begin to crave more drugs to make up the difference. Since methadone, a synthetic narcotic that lasts much longer than opiates, does not produce feelings of euphoria or sedation, the treatment helps an addict feel normal, according to information provided by the Drug Policy Alliance.

Evans said he was skeptical of methadone treatments himself before going to work at the clinic. But now he has seen what a difference methadone can make in someone’s life.

“Addicts are thieves, liars and cheats,” he said. “I’ve seen methadone and the support that goes with it give then a chance to rejoin society.”

Patients on a methadone maintenance treatment program are not out stealing to get money for drugs, they are able to go to work and keep a job, and are getting a real night’s sleep, Nobles said.

After being approved, an addict hooked on opiates can go to the clinic and receive a daily methadone dose, which is always given in liquid form at the Jacksonville Treatment Center.

Patients have to drink their methadone dosage in front of a nurse, Nobles Said.

“Every precaution is taken to make sure our patients are not misusing the methadone,” she said.

Nobles said she knows doctors in the area who will prescribe 30 days worth of methadone.

“That is where methadone on the street is coming from, not from methadone clinics,” she said.

The Jacksonville Treatment Center does not accept Medicaid or private insurance.

“If you can hustle $80 a day to pay for Oxy, you can afford $10 a day for methadone,” Nobles said, adding that the Jacksonville Treatment Center is one of the least expensive methadone clinics in the state. (I don’t like the way she worded that sentence. A recovering addict shouldn’t be referred to as “hustling” money to pay for their treatment. I see where she’s coming from, but she should have worded it differently).

Getting off opiates takes time. Every six months a person used pills translates into two months of treatment, Nobles said.

Patients have to go to the clinic every day to receive their dose and speak to a counselor twice a week. After two years in treatment, patients can take home a week’s supply, but they must submit to spot checks, according to the information provided by the clinic.

Most of the clinic’s patients are soccer coaches, doctors and lawyers, and “normal people that hurt their back or got injured and were prescribed pain medication by a doctor,” Nobles said.

Evans said he is treating several active-duty Marines for opiate addiction. He said many young Marines have been prescribed painkillers for injuries suffered in Iraq and became addicted.

“Opiate addiction is a legitimate health problem like diabetes,” he said. “I don’t see anyone running around saying we shouldn’t give insulin to diabetics.”

Evans and Nobles said educating the public to the positive aspects of methadone is extremely important going into the future.

“We offer tours of the clinic to anyone who wants one,” Evans said. “We will go out to any organization and make a presentation about how methadone helps addicts.”

Nobles said she is preparing for an open house event at the clinic in September, which is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month.

“The main thing we do is treat our patients with respect and dignity,” Evans said.

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