A controversial opiate treatment program in Brainerd treating heroin addicts was the topic Thursday during a League of Women Voters (LWV) of the Brainerd Lakes Area’s meeting at the Brainerd Public Library.
Kevin Evanson, director of the Drug and Alcohol Division with the Department of Human Services (DHS), spoke about Pinnacle Recovery Services, at 2215 S. Sixth St. in Brainerd, which provides services to people for treatment of substance abuse and is a licensed methadone treatment service for those who have abused heroin and other opiates. The opiate treatment program opened in April of 2012.
Using methadone to treat heroin addicts has been viewed as controversial, but has been considered a helpful drug to people to help wean them off heroin.
Evanson, a recovering drug and alcohol addict for 30 years, said people don’t understand an addiction is a disease and there are treatments that work for some people, but not others.
Evanson said methadone is not prescribed to all heroin addicts who are trying to seek help, as it does not work for everyone. Each person is evaluated. Evanson said some addicts may try to quit heroin cold turkey and are successful, but it doesn’t work for everyone. He said some people could die if they stopped taking heroin suddenly.
Evanson said prescribing methadone is highly regulated and doctor and counselors help determine what the right dose level would be for each individual. When someone qualifies for methadone, they take it orally every day and it allows them to function in society, said Evanson. Others may take methadone their entire life.
Evanson said taking prescribed methadone has been controversial and experts have opposing views. Some believe methadone must be taken lifelong in that it changes the chemistry of the brain; other experts say patients can wean off the opiate. There is data supporting both views.
Evanson compared taking methadone for a person’s entire life, to someone who takes their heart disease or blood pressure medications for their entire life.
“I have to take a medication for my whole life in order for me to have a healthy life,” Evanson said, who takes medication for asthma.
Evanson said methadone clinics are supported by The American Journal of Medicine and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
“Research shows methadone is effective and that is why we support it,” said Evanson.
Joe LaRoue and Camille Lartigue, both recovering addicts and Minnesota Teen Challenge graduates, who attended the meeting, said they do not support methadone clinics.
Lartigue, who works for a treatment facility in Brainerd, asked how the community benefits by having a methadone clinic. LaRoue said he was in jail and a lot of the inmates he talked to were addicted to methadone. He said the inmates would use the opiate because they didn’t have to pay for it. He said the inmates went through withdrawals in jail because they were not getting the opiate.
“I know way too many heroin addicts,” said LaRoue. “I do not agree with the methadone clinics. ... They draw people who are addicted to come here.”
Brainerd Police Deputy Chief Mike Bestul said methadone patients are basically trading one drug addiction for another. Taxpayers have asked Bestul why they have to pay for people who are receiving the methadone treatments and he said the answer “is hard (for him) to swallow.” He said people feel like they are paying for the patients’ drug habits.
A few people at the meeting said they live near the methadone clinic and have seen an increase in crime. Bestul agreed and said law enforcement officers have seen addicts sell their doses of methadone.
“It is being sold and I want to know if they are having their blood tested,” said Bestul. “It they got their dose for the week yesterday and they only have one dose left ... That is our frustration. There is a problem here with methadone and when you say it is all great, it is not.”
Evanson said he knows what Bestul is saying and said he will look into it with the Brainerd clinic.
A member of the LWV said the jails are overcrowded and the prisons are not the place to resolve the problem with people on heroin or methadone.
Evanson said he is working with judges on creating a specialty drug court to help people with a heroin or methadone addiction. Evanson said people can’t fight their addiction in jail, they need counseling and a treatment program to help them be successful.
In closing, Evanson said, “I wish there was one pill for a cure, but there is none. We are doing the best we can with the tools we have. ... We all have to work together.”