Taxis from Brainerd and Duluth have been seen coming in and out of the Pinnacle Recovery Services parking lot in Brainerd since the opiate treatment program opened in April of 2012.
Those taxis represent at least part of $2 million transportation bill being paid for by Minnesota taxpayers for a one-year period.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) reported between February 2012 to March 2013 the state spent $2.55 million on transporting patients to the Brainerd clinic alone.
The DHS currently is investigating the program, but no information was available because it is an active investigation.
Pinnacle Recovery Services, located at 2215 South Sixth St., provides services to people who have abused heroin and other opiates and are working on weaning off the drugs by taking methadone, a narcotic pain medication. The clinic provides methadone to their patients.
Using methadone to treat heroin addicts has been viewed as controversial, but has been considered a helpful drug to people to help them wean off heroin.
The Dispatch has made inquiries about Pinnacle Recovery Services since it opened last year to see what its success rate has been with its patients and to see how long the patient is on methadone before being drug free. It also wanted to know where the patients come from, as taxis from out of town have been seen at the clinic.
Several calls were made to one of the doctors, Michael J. Reardon, who is a managing partner of the Brainerd methadone clinic, over the past year, including one in March and one on Wednesday. The calls were not returned.
A Dispatch reporter and photographer visited Pinnacle Wednesday and the clinic director informed them they had to leave immediately and get off the property because of confidentiality of the patients. There were about 10 people in the lobby/waiting room.
Methadone clinics are licensed through the state and treatment plans must follow federal regulation. A bill was recently approved by the Senate and House to further regulate methadone treatment clinics, however it is still waiting to be signed by the governor.
Jerry Kerber, DHS inspector general, said with the recent legislative changes, the state expects methadone treatment providers to be more diligent about monitoring take home doses of methadone, completing drug testing, documenting the services provided, and making sure that clients are not also getting narcotics from other sources.
Karen Smigielski, a DHS spokesperson, said the state pays for methadone treatment for clients on state health care programs and it also covers transportation if needed for clients on Medicaid. She said clients may also pay for their treatment directly or it is covered through their health insurance, which also may cover transportation. Sometimes an individual’s treatment may be covered by a mix of these sources, said Smigielski.
Smigielski said as of May 1, the Brainerd clinic had 279 patients. Smigielski said that the clinic must have one counselor per 50 patients to operate. Smigielski said the DHS does not have information on where the patients live.
The DHS reported that a methadone clinic would administer a dose and follow federal regulation guidelines to provide take-home doses for some clients.
Sgt. Joe Meyer of the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department and head of Crow Wing County’s Lakes Area Drug Investigative Division (LADID) said having a recovery clinic that provides drug addicts with a U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved narcotic to wean them off an illegal narcotic is not the answer.
“Basically they’re trading one addiction for another,” said Meyer.
Meyer said for the most part heroin did not have an overwhelming presence in the county before the methadone clinic opened in Brainerd. Meyer said since this clinic opened, LADID has been investigating more incidents involving methadone. Meyer said in the first two months of 2013, the county had two methadone overdose deaths. Meyer said last weekend the county made an arrest of an individual with heroin who was intending to sell it.
Brainerd Police Deputy Chief Mike Bestul is concerned about what happens to the methadone once the patient leaves the methadone clinic. Bestul said Brainerd police have had numerous calls in the last three months of methadone being sold or traded for other narcotics. Bestul said police did not have any methadone incidents before the clinic opened, but have seen it become more of a problem.
“Having a methadone clinic is new to us,” said Bestul. “There are many laws out there regarding clinics and we need more time to evaluate it.”
Bestul and Meyer are concerned about out of town drug addicts coming to Brainerd for their methadone dose, who are driving long distances, who could be under the influence and could cause a crash; or the addicts could decide to move to Brainerd for the convenience, which could lead to more drug problems in the city and the county.
“I’ve talked to people who have moved here because of the methadone clinic,” said Meyer.
Meyer said having more people using drugs in the county will mean that more social services will be needed, as well as more law enforcement.
The DHS investigated one incident that involved a patient who was receiving methadone at the Brainerd clinic. It was reported that on Oct. 1, 2012, a patient took her methadone while under the influence and caused a motor vehicle crash.
The DHS could not provide information about the crash, but the Pine Journal newspaper in Carlton County reported that a 26-year-old Cloquet woman was charged in connection with a crash that killed two Carlton County Highway Department workers on her way back from a regular visit to a methadone clinic in Brainerd.
Bottles of prescribed liquid methadone and syringes were found on the scene of the three-vehicle crash that occurred Oct. 1, 2012, between Cromwell and Wright on Minnesota Highway 210.
The DHS conducted a site visit on Oct. 17, 2012, to see if there was any alleged maltreatment involving the patient and the clinic. The state looked at the patient’s treatment plan, vulnerable adult assessment and discharge summary. The state found that the patient was diagnosed as opioid dependent, and was not considered a vulnerable adult. The conclusion of the investigation was that the DHS did not have jurisdiction in the incident, so no action was taken.
Another story can be found on Fox 9 News: http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/story/22380357/investigators-fare-aware