Pubdate: Sat, 28 Apr 2001
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: Mark Shanahan
Bookmark: (Treatment)


State substance-abuse officials plan to open a methadone clinic in
Portland to treat the growing number of heroin addicts and opiate
abusers in southern Maine.

Officials have begun to solicit proposals, and hope to begin dispensing
methadone in Maine's largest city by early next year. Methadone is a
synthetic narcotic that suppresses an addict's craving for drugs for as
long as 24 hours.

"We're looking to create a program that provides an array of services to
(addicts), including methadone," said Kim Johnson, director of the state
Office of Substance Abuse.

A Chicago-based agency called the Center for Addictive Problems also is
talking about opening a methadone clinic in Portland.

"We don't have a site or a doctor yet," said Dr. Brian Rines, a clinical
psychologist in Gardiner who's working with the center. "But we've got
an epidemic of opiate addiction in southern Maine.

"People are selling OxyContin on the sidewalk like hot dogs," he said.

There are now two methadone clinics in Maine, in South Portland and
Winslow. A third is about to open at Acadia Hospital in Bangor and a
fourth is being considered in Machias.

State health officials say a facility is needed in Portland because more
and more people in Cumberland and York counties are getting hooked on
heroin and prescription painkillers, especially OxyContin.

Sonya Dennison, a 34-year-old mother of three children, has been going
to the South Portland clinic, called Discovery House, for more than a
year. She said her addiction to painkillers, which nearly killed her
several times, is under control thanks to methadone.

Dennison began taking pain medication when she was 13, after she was in
a car accident. Over time, she became addicted. When she no longer could
get a prescription from a doctor, she bought drugs on the street. 

"It got so bad that I couldn't go a day without a whole bottle,"
Dennison said. "Now I don't crave anything . . . Methadone is a miracle

But some are concerned that methadone clinics can be magnets for addicts
and crime. The Bangor facility, for example, has faced fierce opposition
from U.S. Attorney Jay McCloskey, who's worried that it will draw drug
users to the area.

Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood said he would support a methadone
clinic here, but only if it offers a broad range of services. He said a
"drive-thru" operation that lacks counseling or inpatient services would
be a bad idea.

"My experience in Philadelphia was with 'drive-thru' clinics," Chitwood
said. "That just opens a new arena for addicts to meet and further their
drug activities."

Methadone is viewed by many experts as the most effective way to treat
the growing population of people addicted to heroin and opium-based
prescription painkillers. It has proven a viable treatment method for
nearly 30 years.

Methadone was first developed by German chemists who were seeking new
pain-relief medication during World War II. In the 1960s, it was found
to block opiate receptors in the body, which crave heroin. It gives
users a mild high that does not inhibit their ability to function.

Nationally, there are about 900 methadone clinics serving about 179,000
drug addicts. The clinic in South Portland treats about 400 people, and
the Winslow clinic treats about 100.

According to state officials, 474 people in Cumberland County were
treated last year for heroin or opiate abuse. That's nearly twice the
number of people who were treated five years ago. In York County, 136
addicts were seen in hospitals or detoxification facilities in 2000,
compared with 49 in 1995.

But because many addicts never go to a hospital, those numbers do not
tell the whole story, officials say.

"A lot of the increase we're seeing has to do with OxyContin, which
really wasn't available back in 1995," Johnson said. "The second reason
is that there is more and cheaper and purer heroin in southern Maine

Johnson said the state envisions a full-service, nonprofit clinic that
might include inpatient and outpatient programs, counseling services, a
"12-step" aspect and methadone.

The methadone-only approach, sometimes called a "juice bar," would not
be awarded the state's $100,000 contract, she said.

Gerald R. Cayer, Portland's director of health and human services, said
he supports the state's plan. "Together, these services, including
methadone, allow a person to get their life back," Cayer said. "That,
for me, is the issue."

The city has no role in reviewing or approving the clinic, other than
ensuring it complies with zoning regulations. Any other regulation falls
to the state Office of Substance Abuse, as well as the federal Food and
Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency. 

Rines said the Center for Addictive Problems wants to run a
"low-profile, high-quality" clinic. It also would be a for-profit,
taxpaying operation, he said. "We want people to get their methadone and
go to work," he said.
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