Specialists: Situation would be worse without clinic

Amethadone clinic can be a difficult neighbor, but the lack of a clinic can be even rougher on a community.

Dr. Jim Shames, who is the addiction medicine specialist for the clinic, said the problem with prescription drugs is huge and the clinic is a necessity.

In 2006, 46 Jackson County residents died from prescription drug overdoses, compared with 19 in 2009. Some of the overdoses were attributable to the misuse of methadone itself, a drug sometimes prescribed for pain by doctors.

Shames partially attributes the drop in deaths to the increase in the number of people who go to the methadone clinic, from 200 in 2006 to 500 in 2009.

In addition, local physicians are more careful about prescribing opiate-based painkillers.

However, not every patient who comes to a methadone clinic is a perfect citizen, and it's always a struggle to oversee clients, he said.

"A lot of people take their methadone and leave," he said. "If you have hundreds and hundreds of clients, some aren't going to be your favorite neighbors."

He said some addicts continue to inject drugs at the outset of their treatment. Sometimes addicts are kicked out of the methadone program because they continue to abuse other drugs.

Even though the treatment is helpful, some of the behavior of the patients can interfere with the surrounding neighborhood.

"That is the struggle with methadone clinics everywhere," he said. "There are various ways that communities try to deal with the fact that it isn't everybody's favorite neighbor."

Even though methadone has been around for a long time, the controversy continues about its use as an opiate treatment.

"It is a very controversial treatment, because some people just want to say 'no,'" he said.

Some believe users are just substituting one drug for another, he said.

Methadone is a long-lasting drug that maintains a constant level in the bloodstream and blocks the craving for opiates, whether they are the painkiller oxycodone or heroin.

"Most people feel pretty normal," he said. "They can drive a truck. You have no clue they have taken the drug."

Methadone is administered in a controlled environment by a nurse who provides a cup filled with a measured amount of liquid. In addition, patients receive both individual and group counseling and are subject to drug testing.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

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