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Methadone clinic officials: We can play role in fighting drug epidemic
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Methadone clinic officials: We can play role in fighting drug epidemic




Prescription pain pill and heroin addictions dismantle people’s lives, causing them to lose jobs, families, money and sometimes their homes.

They try to kick the habit, but there is an "overwhelming” physical and psychological need to use the drugs, officials said.

"They’re thinking about the drug, getting the drug, using the drug, recovering from the drug, and thinking about the drug again,” said David Evans, counselor at Wilson Professional Services Treatment Center. "That’s the cycle. It’s all around you and you can’t get away from it. The drug takes their soul. They have lost everything.”

But officials believe their regulated methadone clinic is a way to combat these addictions.

WPS Treatment Center, located on West Nash Street, is Wilson’s first methadone clinic. While methadone won’t control a person’s desire to get high, an adequate dose of it will prevent the need to use painkillers or heroin, officials said. The clinic, which opened in March, continues to see an increase of those who are in desperate need of help. And since the clinic opened, officials say, their patients have made strides at reclaiming their lives.

And those who are addicted to these drugs aren’t who you think they are.

"It hits every socioeconomic class,” said Michelle Smith, clinical director of WPS Treatment Center. "We have professionals. We have people who are mildly educated and some who are highly educated.”

Addiction, she said, doesn’t discriminate.

EPIDEMIC DRUG PROBLEM

Former 30-year Wilson County Sheriff Wayne Gay, who opened the clinic, said with his 34 years in law enforcement he saw a tremendous need in the community.

"We have an epidemic drug problem,” Gay said. "We always have in the city and the county. Wilson is not unique to the situation.”

Across the country, law enforcement and medical officials are battling the growing addiction of prescription pain killers. Nearly 15,000 people die every year of overdoses involving prescription painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease and Control. In 2010, millions reported nonmedical use of prescription in the past year.

Gay said when he was in law enforcement, the main target was the drug dealer who supplied the drugs.

"We were always trying to arrest people for selling drugs and very seldom did we arrest people for buying drugs,” Gay said. "It was about trying to get the seller. We were eliminating the opportunity for people to buy drugs, which meant they either would go to another county or some other location and would continue to use drugs. We always ignored the substance abuser who was hooked.”

And Gay believes Wilson’s methadone clinic can give some people hope.

"We’re actually working with these people, counseling them at least once a week, meeting with them, talking to families,” Gay said. "The motivating force for us is to get these people stable and get them back into successful careers and work with them.”

Gay noted once those addicted to these drugs get into treatment, the demand for those drugs will go down and suppliers will move.

THE BLOCKER

Police seen an increase in heroin and pain pills on the streets. Popular prescription drugs on the street include hydrocodone (Vicoden) and oxycodone (Percocet). Heroin has also become cheaper to get on the streets, official have said.

Evans said while heroin is described as an opioid, prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are described as opiates.

"One is manmade; one is natural,” he said. And opiates or prescription painkillers have the same addictive properties as heroin, Evans said.

And what makes it so difficult to stop taking those prescription painkillers is the withdrawal. And those withdrawals can be excruciating, including vomiting, diarrhea, the sweats, hallucinations and nightmares. Methadone eases those withdrawals and allows people to function.

"The fun and all that was done before,” Evans said. "Now, what they’re trying to do is prevent the withdrawals from coming on. That’s why people go back to doing opiates or opioids. It has nothing to do with getting high. It has to do with, I can’t function today because I’m withdrawing. And when you are withdrawing you can’t do anything. You lose jobs, relationships, money. You lose it all because you can’t function.”

Methadone is a long-acting synthetic medication first used in the maintenance treatment of drug addiction in the United States in the 1960s, officials said.

"It’s an opiate blocker,” Evans said. "It stops the opiate from coming in to get high or any type of affect.”

CONTROVERSIAL

Methadone clinics tend to be controversial nationally and have drawn heated zoning and political battles in other communities as some residents have fought their locations. Some argue they draw crime.

National Institute on Drug Abuse and University of Maryland research in 2012 contends that’s not the case for the clinics.

Others question the long-term success rates and argue methadone simply trades one addition for another, creating methadone addicts.

While methadone is used in the regulated clinics, it’s also increasingly prescribed for pain relief. In that environment, the CDC found it led to a disproportionate number — one in three — overdose deaths. Those numbers add to the drug’s controversial reputation.

"Methadone and other extended-release opioids should not be used for mild pain, acute pain, "breakthrough” pain or on an as-needed basis,” a CDC report advised doctors.

Local methadone clinic officials said they are treating addition in a monitored, controlled manner under federal regulations.

Evans said he knows there are those who argue that methadone replaces one drug for another.

"We treat diabetes,” he said. "This disease is no different from any other disease.”

HIGHLY REGULATED

Methadone clinics are highly regulated by several agencies, including the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Gay said they started the process of opening up Wilson’s first methadone clinic in October 2012.

"We knew there were other methadone clinics throughout North Carolina that had been very successful trying to help people with the problem,” Gay said. "We really felt that it was something that there was a tremendous need for in Wilson.”

And before a clinic can be approved, everything must be in place, including state inspections, alarm systems and staff.

"There were a lot of things that had to be done even prior to being approved,” he said. "We went through a year getting our office up to the standards required. You are dealing with a controlled substance.”

PAIN: A DRIVING MOTIVATOR

While the Wilson clinic treats those who are addicted to heroin, the majority of their patients are addicted to painkillers, officials said.

"A majority of our patients aren’t here because they went out and abused to get high, they’re here because they were prescribed a medication by a doctor,” Evans said. "The medication stopped and they were abusing the medication and got into a situation. The pain was still there.”

And that addiction fuels a person to do things they wouldn’t normally do, including committing crimes to get a fix.

"It happens so rapidly,” Smith said referring to painkiller addiction.

She said if folks have ever had pain and were prescribed an opiate like Percocet, she said people might notice that a few days later it seems to wear off faster and the person finds themselves taking more to relieve the pain.

"That’s the opiate,” Smith said. "Your body develops a tolerance to it so quickly that you need more.”

When those prescription painkillers become scarce, those same addicts go to the streets for heroin, officials said.

"That is kind of the replacement,” Smith said. "Pain is a driving motivator. It causes people to do things they wouldn’t normally do when they are in a lot of pain.”

HOW THE CLINIC WORKS

When a patient first arrives at the WPS Treatment Center, staff conducts a drug test first. That test is to ensure the patient does not have any benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan). The mixture of methadone and those types of drugs could be fatal, officials said.

If the patient does have any type of benzodiazepines in their system, medical officials tell them they are required to get it out of their system before they can be treated.

Once the patient is clear of those particular drugs, Evans begins his process by screening the patient and conducting an extensive drug history assessment. Another requirement for the person to become a methadone patient is that they have to have a history of opiates for at least a year, officials said.

"They have to have opiates in their system,” Smith said.

Blood work and other various tests are also conducted. The clinic’s doctor assesses the patient face-to-face and comes up with a dose she feels the patient needs to start with for treatment, officials said.

The patient then starts their dose of methadone the next day. That dose depends upon the individual’s history, officials said.

"You want just enough of a dose to keep from going into withdrawal,” Smith said. "You don’t want to get impaired or high.”

Officials said if a patient receives a dose at 7 a.m. then it should last until the same time the next morning.

"That’s how the doctor gauges,” Evans said. The doctor then determines if the dose should be increased or kept the same, officials said.

In addition to being medically treated by a doctor, they are also supervised by a counselor. Weekly counseling sessions are also a part of the treatment program.

LIQUID DOSE

Evans said methadone has been around longer than any other drug to treat any opiate or opioid addiction.

"You are not getting intoxicated with the methadone,” Smith added. "That’s one of the major misconceptions.”

The dose is long-acting and is not instant into the patient’s system, Smith said.

"It’s going to take two or three hours to actually hit the effect,” she said. "And when the dose is right, it’s just enough to keep them from withdrawals.”

Methadone can be dispensed in various forms, including wafers, pills or liquid. WPS Treatment Center uses the liquid form of methadone. When the patient comes to the clinic for their dose, they take that dose in a secure area. They are also required to take the liquid methadone with water, Gay said.

"They have to drink it in front of the nurse, throw the cup in the trash and actually have a conversation with the nurse so that we know they are not holding that methadone in their mouth so they can’t go outside spit it in a cup and go resale it,” Gay said. "This way we don’t have to worry about our methadone getting out on the streets and being illegally sold.”

Smith said some reports of people coming out of various clinics staggering after a dose is not as a result of methadone. She said those reports are related to patients using other drugs, which is why the Wilson clinic monitors and performs drug tests to eliminate that possibility.

TREATMENT LENGTH

Patients in the program are required to take their dose seven days a week.

"You have to be willing to make it every day,” Evans said. "It’s a commitment.”

The Wilson clinic doses from 6 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. On weekends they dose from 7 to 9 a.m. How long a patient is in the methadone treatment program depends upon where they are in their life and their history, officials said.

If the patient feels as if they have progressed, then they might discuss tapering down on the methadone dosage with the doctor.

"They go on methadone through the doctor’s orders and come off of methadone via doctor’s orders,” Evans said. A daily dose runs $11 at the clinic. Gay said they are in the process of getting approved to accept various insurances, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and Medicaid. He said if a person doesn’t have money one day for their dose, they don’t turn them away. Instead, they allow the patient to get back on their feet and find a job. Officials said once the patients’ lives are back on track, they almost always come into the clinic to pay for previous doses they couldn’t afford at the time.

"We have people who come every day to the clinic in the mornings and get their dose and then go out and do a hard day’s work for 12 to 14 hours a day,” Evans said. "They are starting to put their lives back together. They are starting to get out of the drug craze and are getting back to normal again. You see a process after a time where they get better. They go back and they do good. They get back into our society and they don’t end up down in a jail or end up in prison or stealing out of your house.”

Evans said what they are trying to do is "put them at a pause.”

"We start talking about their relationships,” Evans said. "We start talking about their job. We make sure they are slowly putting their lives back together.”

‘IT’S ASTONISHING’

WPS Treatment Center has seen a difference in the lives of those they are treating, Gay said.

"They don’t have to get up in the morning and worry about where they’re going to get it,” he said. "They don’t have to scramble to find that pill or find that heroin.

They are now realizing I have somewhere to go that’s legal. And I don’t have to look over my shoulder to make sure I’m not breaking the law and somebody is going to arrest me or I’m going to go to jail. Now I know I have an answer to my problem.”

Gay said one patient told him they felt relief knowing that they were getting help for their problem. He said families begin coming into the clinic together to support a loved one and even sit in on counseling sessions. "It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been involved in,” he said.

He said staff will take a photograph of the patient when they first come into the clinic for identification purposes. And once in a while, he said, they will go back a month later and look at the photographs and compare them to what the patient looks like now.

"It’s astonishing,” he said.

WPS Treatment Center is located at 2223 W. Nash St. For more information contact 206-5799.

olivia@wilsontimes.com | 265-7879
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View Comments:Show/Hide(12 comments)
To justdy said...

I totally agree. Wilson has failed to provide help to addicts and now a business pops up that basically is going to provide medicine to make people zombies... Read the side effects of this stuff. It is also addictive and who monitors the do for shopping aspects of this business. What if these people sale these drugs? Is it going to stop? I doubt it and maybe that is why they want Woodard gone. Who will investigate it? The SBI? They are under the governor now and Gay was a fundraiser for Mccroy. The police chief? He is govern by Tyson who is a supporter of Gardner. Gardner? He is Gays puppet seen riding with farmer and Boykin (gays protege). Where are the Feds? Hitting Arabic stores for fun while others remain for profit. We have come a long way.

Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 8:19 AM
LEE said...

It was reported because Gay wanted it reported, what better way to get advertisement? Gay even asked the patients "how can I get the word out" I know someone that goes to the clinic and the counseling is not going on like it is suppose to. They are to busy signing up new customers to attend to the current ones. They also did not report that these patients after counseling and clean drug tests get weekly take homes.

Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 11:24 PM
@@well played said...

I guess you can not read... Calvin ????really. If you can read you would see that Gay made his own statements in the paper. Maybe you got a picture of Calvin in YOUR back pocket since you talk about him in every post and EVERY article. You almost act like you are obsessed with him. Now comment on me. Calvin is removing drugs and I guess you did not see that people can get HOOKED on the stuff the clinic offers... But if you did not read the first what would make me believe you read that as well. When Wilson Community College get the Lee Building maybe you can attend one of the reading classes. Good luck to a miserable life. Reminds me of ... let me seeeeeeee."Mufasa Mufasa Mufasa ewwwww just the sound of it."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 7:46 AM
@well played, Gay said...

you can bet that Calvin had something to do with it being reported. wdt in his back pocket

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 10:22 AM
Well Played, Gay..... said...

Now you makes a boatload off of those you helped become addicts by supporting the operation. I've known Gay was a co-owner of the clinic, but I am shocked it was reported.....

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 8:22 AM
Sad said...

It's called full circle! He knows that Methadone is at the top of the food chain.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 7:25 AM Retirement Plan said...

So... for years Wayne Gay helps drug dealers thrive, resulting in more drug addicts. Now... in retirement he's going to "help" these addicts. Pretty smart, Wayne. Pretty smart.

Monday, June 23, 2014 at 8:50 AM JstTdy said...

I have very mixed feelings as I learn more about the new methadone clinic in Wilson.
I totally understand what withdrawals from prescription medicine can cause someone to go through and I have experienced those very same feelings.
One problem I have with methadone is that it is most certainly a replacement chemical for the original chemical culprit. Most people who become addicted do so because they have the disease of addiction.
The disease of addiction is a disease of ones thought process that robs the mind and soul of the ability to think clearly and make rational choices. After all, if a drug causes such severe withdrawal, why take it? What addiction does is tell a person to just get more and all will be ok.
So rather than worry about where to get their next drug, now people can do so through "legal" drug dealers. I personally was treated for severe pain symptoms for 10 years by a pain clinic. It was only after realizing that I had this disease and getting intense and continued treatment did I realize that the pain clinic was my "legal" drug dealer.
This disease must be treated on a level that repairs a persons spiritual health. Only then will a person be able to realize the true consequences of the decisions made abusing drugs.
Based on information available the only drugs that have life threatening withdrawal symptoms are alcohol and benzodiazepines. So personally I feel that replacing opiates and opioids with methadone is not a cure or long term treatment option and doesn't truly treat the psychological aspects of addiction. It is only until a person stops putting chemicals into their body that the spiritual healing process and learning to deal with life's day to day happenings can occur.
It is my opinion that any chemical replacement therapy or harm reduction should be completed as part of an intense inpatient treatment program. Although inpatient treatment is unrealistic for WPS I hope that their efforts to treat the psychological aspects of the disease of addiction become much more than just a revolving door of weekly sessions with a counselor. After all, Wilson doesn't have many options for the still suffering addict and something may be better than nothing.

Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 12:07 AM @WOW said...

People do not waste your time WOW is just trying to get people to respond....or is he WOW.LOL Simpleton

Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 10:28 PM Sickening said...

What a stupid statement "Gay is fighting the drug problem more and better than Calvin is" Methadone is more addictive than heroin and the addicts will be on it for life and Gay knows this. This is a real money maker not a good will effort.

Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 9:36 PM WOW!!! said...

Gay is fighting the drug problem more and better than Calvin is.

Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 9:27 AM D4HTU said...

Sounds like a money-maker with Wayne Gay running it. Who are the doctors prescribing this treatment? They should have their names in the article. Methadone's pretty strong stuff - my aunt's on it, after morphine for her end-of-life hospice care wasn't working well.

Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 6:20 AM
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