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Midcoast Brushes Off Public Health Problem

Midcoast Brushes Off Public Health Problem.

Midcoast Brushes Off Public Health Problem
9/2/2010 8:43:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article
by Christine Parrish
Feature Writer

The shutdown of the methadone clinic in Rockland by federal drug enforcement agents last month, which leaves 270 opiate-addicted people without a local clinic, did not register with government officials as a community public health problem or a public safety issue.

“There has been no discussion by the Select Board about the closing of the clinic,” said Rockland City Manager Rosemary Kulow. “As far as the city goes, it’s a zoning issue.”

Rockland City Attorney Kevin Beal said he was unaware of any company interested in reopening the clinic. The clinic could be reopened under the auspices of Turning Tide, Inc. if the company chose to sell, without requiring a zone change, he said.

Guy Cousins, director of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, said it was not up to the state to provide an alternative methadone pharmacy. OSA did help with transportation to other locations. The closest clinic is The Discovery House in Waterville; 180 midcoast patients are now going there, according to Clinical Supervisor Jody Bither.

Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison was more direct about the impact of the closure.

“Too bad, so sad,” she said.

Communities ignore the population of the severely addicted at their own risk, according to Brent Scobie, the Clinical Supervisor for Acadia Hospital, a mental-health and substance abuse hospital in Bangor, which operates a methadone clinic in its facility.

“It’s not to say that methadone is the only treatment option, but severe opiate addiction pretty much requires some replacement (drug) therapy,” he said. “For low and moderate opiate addiction, it’s not necessary.”

Most addicts in Maine start out on legally prescribed prescription painkillers, which are not difficult to get, he said. Once addicted, many switch to sniffing opiates. In Maine, the data show it takes about five or six years before an addict seeks help at a methadone clinic, according to Scobie. By then, the addiction can take over a life, he said.

“These people stay in their communities,” said Scobie. “People abruptly stopped from methadone treatment have a high rate of opiate relapse. It’s tremendously expensive and they have an incredible need for finances. They beg, barter, steal, sell themselves, sell other drugs to support their habits, and do other dangerous things, like re-use or share needles.”

“It’s a community-based problem, and it’s an advantage to the community to think about treating them,” he said.

According to Scobie, the data collected on treatment indicate that 80 percent of patients have very low rates of relapse. The stereotypes of methadone users who are selling drugs and getting high are the other 20 percent, according to Scobie. For most people, the treatment allows them to live a normal life, he said.

“It’s been in use for fifty years,” he said. “It’s a proven therapy for addiction.”

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