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Our view: Methadone could help

Our view: Methadone could help: ADN Editorial | adn.com.

Our view: Methadone could help

A little more money would go a long way to battle heroin

Amid billions of dollars for budgets, bailouts and stimuli, $100,000 looks like a pittance.

But $100,000 could wipe out the waiting list of heroin addicts trying to get into the methadone program for heroin addicts in Anchorage.

If addicts are going to break the habit, they need help as soon as they ask for it. By the time a spot in treatment opens up, they may be lost again in the throes of their addiction.

Sen. Johnny Ellis of Anchorage wants to provide the methadone money in the state’s operating budget. Tough chance this year, especially in a Legislature not always sympathetic to substance abuse programs.

Ron Greene, clinical director at the center, said that as of Tuesday 18 people were on the program’s waiting list. The clinic is already serving 82 patients — seven more than the clinic’s federal grant calls for. Greene said if the number gets to 85, they take no more patients, even the pregnant women addicts who have priority.

With an additional $100,000, Greene said, the clinic could accept all 18 people on the waiting list. The money would pay for making a part-time counselor full time, additional supplies of methadone and more medical and nursing help.

As it is now, he has to tell people on the waiting list that it may be eight to 12 months before they can get into the program. That’s a bitter answer to someone asking for help. That may well be eight to 12 months of using, stealing and drug-related violence that could have been stopped.

The clinic’s current state funding is $834,000 — most of the total of $1.15 million. Brenda Dee, the clinic’s financial officer, said her budget proposal for the next fiscal year would ideally add $120,000 in state money to clear up the waiting list, but she’d be delighted with $100,000.

Greene is well aware of the controversy methadone always has and still does generate. There’s no question methadone is an addictive drug, and critics argue it’s wrong to replace one drug with another.

But here’s the difference — those on a methadone program don’t have to rob, lie, cheat, assault or kill to feed a habit. They are far more likely to hold a job and take care of their kids. They get a fighting chance at a better life, and the rest of us gain by having one less drug-driven criminal in the city — or in prison, where they cost more — and fewer neglected children to fall under state care.

It’s not a perfect solution. But it’s far better than just shrugging at the heroin addiction that is becoming more common in Anchorage and other parts of Alaska.

Fortifying Alaska’s methadone programs is just one front in the battle against substance abuse. Like most social ills, this is a battle that needs fighting on more fronts than one — education, public safety, political, personal. Work on each front should complement another, not pre-empt it. More prison beds shouldn’t mean fewer treatment slots.

People who enter methadone programs are trying to change their lives. They don’t always succeed. But they should get the chance.

BOTTOM LINE: Another $100,000 is a wise investment to help individuals and families out of heroin’s misery.

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