New Rockland methadone clinic serves 'different kind of patient'
Rockland — Rockland Metro Treatment Center, the methadone clinic that opened on New County Road in June, is a different facility than the one that operated from the same building three years ago.
"Our patients are not the ones out robbing pharmacies," said Medical Director Judith Weisman.
The clinic, which serves 30 patients, is open 365 days a year. The average age of a patient at Rockland Metro is 35, and the tenet of patients is " methadone saved my life," said Weisman.
Methadone is a synthetic opioid used to treat narcotic addiction.
Weisman and Mike Franklin, program director of the drug treatment program, say their patients are a different kind of patient than the public may perceive.
"These are hardworking people — catching lobsters, building houses, towing cars, business owners," Weisman said. Patients often tell her they are nervous their vehicles will be seen in the parking lot.
Franklin, the former clinical director of the closed Turning Tide clinic, said he understands the community apprehension to accepting another clinic.
"There is a tendency to assume all methadone clinics are alike, which is not the case. The staff, management and ownership make the difference," he said.
The Turning Tide clinic, which was located in the same building, was closed in 2010 after Turning Tide founder and licensed operator Angel Fuller-McMahan of Owls Head was charged with felony possession of cocaine.
Franklin said the new clinic has more oversight, including pharmacy records monitored by a third party, and better communication among staff. The clinic follows both federal and state regulations.
An advisory committee meeting was held Aug. 28 to inform members of the first two months of operation at the clinic. The committee includes Mayor Will Clayton, resident Sandra Schramm, resident Jim Pease and Rockland Police Chief Bruce Boucher.
Patients receiving treatment at the Rockland clinic either have insurance, or pay out-of-pocket for their doses. The clinic does not accept MaineCare, which Franklin said suppresses business. A majority of the patients pay out-of-pocket for treatment, spending an average of $5,200 on treatment annually, he said.
Franklin said as the clinic does not accept MaineCare, patients show a stronger will and determination to receive help.
The breakdown of patients by gender is 77 percent male and 23 percent female. Franklin said as time progresses, the numbers should even out.
The clinic is licensed to serve up to 400 patients and only dispenses methadone, not Suboxone. Franklin said the main difference between the two drugs is the way it is administered. Both medications are taken orally, but methadone is a liquid that the patient drinks, and Suboxone is taken as a strip that dissolves when placed under the tongue. There is a water cooler nearby the dosing station because, as he has heard from patients, "methadone tastes nasty."
Weisman said methadone does not create a high for patients, but rather, suppresses cravings. Some patients decide they eventually want to be weaned off treatment, while others decide a small dose everyday is sufficient for them to function adequately. Quitting cold turkey is not considered best practice, Franklin said.
"We want people to succeed," he said, and added the clinic never denies a dose decrease.
There is no cap on a dose given to patients and the dose per individual is determined by the patient's ability to metabolize methadone. "It has nothing to do with size or weight," Franklin said.
At an Aug. 28 meeting involving community members and officials, Mayor Will Clayton told Franklin that, unfortunately, the new clinic will need to prove itself to the public to earn trust, something that was damaged by the reputation of the old clinic. He said providing information and common knowledge would be helpful in educating the city.
"Public perception is hard to change and overcome," Clayton said, adding the legal battle between Warren and CRC Health Group Inc. can breed further mistrust.
Franklin said he is sensitive to the sentiment that people do not want a clinic in their community.
Patients come to the center daily to receive a dose. They first check in with a receptionist and then report to a dispensing window where they identify themselves with a patient number. A nurse is able to pull up on the computer the patient's treatment regiment and photo.
Patients that look or seem high on another drug are not given a dose and are asked to come back the next day, which Weisman said has happened.
"I just told them to come back the next day, that they weren't getting a dose, and they said, O.K.," she said.
After 90 days at the clinic, patients become eligible to receive take-home doses. Patients must also have a history of no disturbance at the clinic, compliant with counseling and free from illicit drug use.
At 90 to 100 days at the clinic, patients can take home one dose, and eventually, after 360 days at the clinic, they are eligible to take home up to six doses. To ensure the treatment is taken correctly and not abused, the clinic does "random call backs", where patients must come into the clinic with unused doses and empty bottles to check if they have been tampered with.
Random drug tests through collecting urine samples also determines if patients have been taking the dose allotted to them, and not selling it through the testing of methadone metabolites in urine. Patient urine is collected and stored in a refrigerator at the clinic until it is collected on Tuesdays and sent to a lab for testing.
Franklin said the clinic randomly tests all patients at least monthly.
Four hours is allotted to admit a patient to the clinic for intake and assessment. The clinic is staffed now by Franklin, Weisman, and one counselor, along with a weekend nurse and a weekday nurse. Security is provided by former Rockland Police Officer Jeff McLaughlin. The clinic also operates 14 security cameras in the building and on the grounds of the clinic.
The advisory committee is scheduled to meet on a quarterly basis.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.