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Director of new methadone clinic says some clients will face a wait

As a new opiate addiction treatment clinic in Duluth nears its opening date, its director isn't pleased that the existing clinic is about to close. "I was hoping we were going to be able to be admitting new people right off the bat," said Gary Ol...

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Julie Seitz, clinical director at the Center for Alcohol & Drug Treatment, listens to CADT Executive Director Gary Olson during a Thursday tour of ClearPath Clinic, the center’s new opiate treatment clinic. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

As a new opiate addiction treatment clinic in Duluth nears its opening date, its director isn't pleased that the existing clinic is about to close.

"I was hoping we were going to be able to be admitting new people right off the bat," said Gary Olson, director of the Center for Alcohol Drug and Treatment (CADT) and its soon-to-open ClearPath Clinic. "We're telling them you're going to have to wait a little longer, and some of those people might die in the meantime."

Olson was speaking after a news conference and tour of the new clinic, which is on the ground floor below the center's detoxification unit at 1402 E. Superior St. The event was staged in advance of the planned July 21 opening for ClearPath, pending final approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Olson originally had hoped for an April 1 opening, but he said the approval process from various governmental agencies took longer than expected.

Last week, the owners of the Lake Superior Treatment Center on Central Entrance notified state officials that the troubled clinic will close on Sept. 1. The state Department of Human Services revoked the clinic's license in September 2012, but it had continued operating under appeal.

Olson and Dr. Faris Keeling, CADT's recently appointed medical director, both said that clinic has been doing a better job within the past year.

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With Lake Superior Treatment Center closing, ClearPath's first priority will be absorbing its 200-some clients, Olson said. Although ClearPath is designed to treat 400 clients, it won't be able to add new clients immediately, he said.

"By September, we will hopefully have completed that transfer process and be accepting more new clients," Olson said during the news conference.

Any delay is a concern, he said, because of the urgency of treating people who are dependent on prescription opiates or heroin.

"With opioids, the risk is overdose," Olson said. "With alcohol, if you don't get them into treatment right away and they lapse, it's usually not fatal. But with opioids, the potential for overdose is so high that you want to get people in as quickly as possible."

Freshly painted and squeaky clean, ClearPath was once the garage for Kolar Buick Toyota. More recently it had served as a storage area and housed maintenance facilities for the CADT, Olson said.

The new clinic will be open seven days a week, meaning clients in the early phases of treatment will be able to take their medication on site, even on weekends, Olson said. The building is heavily secured, including cameras and motion detectors.

Like the Lake Superior Treatment Center, the new clinic will be able to provide clients with methadone, a synthetic narcotic that's used to eliminate withdrawal symptoms from quitting opioids.

But ClearPath also will be able to provide suboxone, an alternative that is considered safer because the potential for overdose is much lower, Olson said. Most clinics don't offer suboxone, he added.

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Methadone has a troubled image in the Northland. Three years ago, two Carlton County workers were killed in an accident involving a Cloquet woman who admitted to "double dosing" methadone she had obtained at a Brainerd clinic. The Lake Superior Treatment Center has been frequently in the news for violations and fines.

Julie Seitz, the CADT's clinical director, said she realizes ClearPath may face a skeptical public.

"We've spent a good portion of the last three or four years going out and educating the community about what medicine-assisted treatment is," Seitz said. "I think the beliefs have really been distorted. ... Many people find recovery and a much higher level of functioning in their lives (with methadone)."

The success stories are much more common than the failures, but the failures get the attention, Keeling said.

ClearPath, operated by the nonprofit CADT, will be able to better serve the community than the for-profit Lake Superior Treatment Center, said Keeling, who also is an Essentia Health psychiatrist on the faculty of the Duluth Family Medicine Clinic.

A for-profit facility makes its money from the amount of methadone it provides, Keeling said. It doesn't have an incentive to get people off of the drug or to provide anything beyond minimal services. And Lake Superior Treatment Center was owned by an out-of-state company, Florida-based Colonial Management Group.

In contrast, "We have a real stake in this community and how we are perceived," Keeling said of the CADT. "The culture here is one of providing quality."

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