Methadone Clinic Responds To Undercover Investigation

Special To WAVE 3 News
By Angie Moreschi

After we concluded our five-month investigation, we asked the director at the Southern Indiana Treatment Center, Guy Newcomb, to talk to us about methadone and the procedures at his clinic. He agreed.

When I ask if a person with no opiates in his system should be able to get methadone, he says he’s not sure. “I don’t know,” he responds, “I’m not a doctor.”

Methadone can be deadly for someone with no opiate tolerance. “If any person takes a narcotic that goes over their threshold of tolerance, they risk respiratory depression, which means they will eventually go into cardiac arrest.” international methadone expert Mark Parrino notes.

Newcomb tells us the clinic does not avoid talking to patients about other forms of rehab. “Certainly, other rehab, whatever would be most appropriate for that particular individual, is what we would recommend. We’re not looking to guide folks into methadone treatment.”

Asked how common it is for patients to be dosed on the first day, there is a long pause as Newcomb looks at his regional manager, Holly Gritton, who has been monitoring the interview.

Newcomb then says he is having neck pain and steps away. When he returns, Gritton takes over the interview.

I ask if she believes it is dangerous to dose patients on the first day. She says “no” and also says she does not believe that can lead to abuse, because she doesn’t think it’s likely patients who don’t need methadone would try to get it.

When I ask Gritton if she thinks any patients come to get methadone just to get high, she says, “No, because once a person reaches a stable dosage of methadone, they do not experience a high at all.”

Patients, however, do feel a “buzz” when they first get onto methadone, when they increase their dosage or take more than one dose at a time.

Gritton also says she doesn’t believe patients who get methadone would sell it on the street, although our sources said some patients have been doing exactly that. Under federal guidelines, the clinic must have a “diversion control plan” to deal with the issue of patients misusing methadone. She confirms SITC has such a plan.

As for waiting to get urine test results before dosing a patient, Gritton notes that federal guidelines do not require that.

“We are very well trained to survey the patient, to look a their complete history, signs of withdrawal, and if they meet the criteria set up by the government they are admitted before those results come back.”

I ask if she’s concerned the wrong people could be getting into the program at times. She says, “Absolutely not.”

Gritton continues: “When they come to us, they may be at their lowest, and the person who walks in that front door, seeking help, is a successful patient to us.”

Does that mean it’s up to the patients to know if they’re right for methadone? I ask her to clarify if just walking in the door makes someone right for SITC’s program.

“It’s not just walk through the door and you’re right,” she says, adding that “the medical director looks at a patient to see if they meet the criteria set forth by the federal government.”

At this point, I explain we had a drug-free person, who claimed to be taking OxyContin, test the clinic’s screening process and was offered methadone on the first day.

“You’ve brought up something that I’m unaware of,” Gritton says. “Um, I feel very confident that my medical staff made a full evaluation and did the proper thing.”

When I tell her Parrino thought the clinic should have waited for the results of the blood and urine tests in the case of our test patient, she says she would want to talk to him about that.

I reiterate the patient was drug-free.

There is a long pause. She stops the interview and leaves to make a phone call. We wait.

Forty-five minutes later she returns and says, “If something like that happened in our facility, it was definitely a mistake, and I would appreciate the opportunity to get the specifics from you to research it.”

We offer to show SITC the undercover video of Donna’s intake process so managers can see exactly what happened and explain. They don’t take us up on our offer.

Instead, a public relations firm for SITC, Holland Communications, sends us a fax that says, in part, “While we try to be thorough with the initial screens, they are not 100 percent perfect all of the time. However, we adhere to regulatory guidelines...”

It also states, “In the rare event a patient passes through the screens and is dosed, they are quickly flagged within a day or two upon reception of the test results. At that point, they are reassessed and dosing is discontinued if it is deemed inappropriate.”