Pubdate: Tue, 11 Jun 2002
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2002 Bangor Daily News Inc.


The 17 recent deaths from drug overdoses in southern Maine are personal 
tragedies for those who risked their lives with heroin or other drugs and 
they are public tragedies because the deaths expose what the state does not 
know about drug abuse.

In this case, for instance, it does not understand about the illegal spread 
of methadone, a synthetic narcotic used in the treatment of opiate 
addiction, and how its own policies may have contributed to the problem.

Methadone from two Portland-area clinics, CAP Quality Care in Westbrook and 
Discovery House in South Portland, has been found in the places where some 
of the deaths occurred and may be a factor in some of those deaths.

Methadone as part of drug treatment usually is administered daily, at the 
clinic site and under supervision, except for those clients who meet eight 
federal criteria and are considered trustworthy enough to be given a week's 
worth of methadone at a time. Those clients must pass drug tests regularly.

What remains a mystery to the state Office of Substance Abuse is how 
methadone, traceable to the clinics, is being passed or sold to others 
without the trusted clients suffering withdrawal symptoms or testing 
positive for illegal opiates.

Theft at the clinics isn't the answer and according to state inspections, 
the clinics have been following all the rules.

There are, however, several possibilities. Unlike the clinic in Bangor, 
which is open seven days a week, the Portland clinics have been opened just 
six, which means that all clients on Saturday take Sunday's dose home. This 
possibility can be checked easily enough by keeping the Portland clinics 
open all week. Another possibility, according to Kim Johnson, director of 
the Office of Substance Abuse, is that clients are getting additional 
methadone from other places, such as by feigning pain and persuading a 
doctor to write a prescription. She admits that this is speculation, and 
says this is why her office and law enforcement agencies will be working 
together in the coming weeks to find more substantial answers.

The larger point is how pernicious the drug problem in Maine has become, 
making standards of care and security that would have been acceptable here 
four or five years ago no longer enough.

Maine has appeared in national news during the last few years because its 
drug problem seemed like a curiosity in such a bucolic setting (the media 
are suckers for any story that includes danger beneath apparent calm). It 
isn't a curiosity now and it isn't limited to just one or two counties.

Maine law enforcement and treatment agencies hardly have been standing 
still during the rise in drug abuse, but the 17 deaths suggest how much 
more there is to do. The public has a right to expect more specific answers 
to those deaths and to the overall problem in the coming months.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart