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Methadone clinics are underused due to bad press, expert says

As painkiller abuse continues to escalate in Oklahoma, some experts say that methadone clinics are underused despite their high success rates.
BY ANDREW KNITTLE Published: November 11, 2011

Five years ago, Dan Cross started to notice a growing trend in drug abuse.

Addicts were doctor-shopping and buying pills from online pharmacies instead of pulling off the highway to score.

If you were looking for prescription drugs — painkillers, in particular — there were plenty to be had.

“People had cheap and easy access to these drugs,” Cross said. “UPS and FedEx drivers drove their trucks to death to deliver those drugs.”

But those days are over.

The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act has since been passed to address online drugstores. Doctor-shoppers are monitored and tracked by law enforcement, making it more difficult for addicts to get prescriptions from multiple doctors.

“But all those addicts are still there,” Cross said. “The cheap and easy access is gone, so now they're moving onto other things or they're buying them off the street.

“And buying prescription meds off the street isn't cheap.”

Methadone use rises

With tens of thousands of Oklahomans struggling with addictions to opiate-based drugs such as OxyContin, heroin and hydrocodone, Cross said it's a shame more people don't seek treatment at methadone clinics.

Cross is the new executive director of Absentee Shawnee Counseling Services, which is situated in a converted building about a quarter mile off Interstate 35 on SE 59.

A growing form of treatment both nationally and here in Oklahoma, Cross believes methadone maintenance programs have been the victims of “bad press” and a lack of education.

Most employers also consider having methadone in your system grounds for failing a drug test, and the state doesn't reimburse patients like it does in other cases where medication is used as a form of treatment.

One those “bad press” moments came in December 2009, when 11-year-old Stephanie Wilcoxson died of a methadone overdose. The girl's mother had waited for days to report the death of the Noble girl. (Because the medical examiner's office could not determine whether she ingested the drug on her own, or whether it was given to her, it ruled the manner of her death “unknown.”)

A few months before that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing a sharp rise in methadone-related deaths in the U.S.

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