Our view: For good of Minnesotans, get handle on methadone
In the midst of a News Tribune investigative series on methadone treatment, including serious and legitimate questions about whether it even works and about the tens of millions of taxpayers' dollars being poured into it, the state of Minnesota d...
In the midst of a News Tribune investigative series on methadone treatment, including serious and legitimate questions about whether it even works and about the tens of millions of taxpayers' dollars being poured into it, the state of Minnesota dropped a bombshell.
It announced this week it would revoke the license of Duluth's lone methadone clinic, the Lake Superior Treatment Center, because of chronic and serious violations of state and federal laws. The state had never before revoked a methadone clinic's license even though violations have become troublingly common statewide.
Violations that include excessive counselor caseloads, failures in making sure patients are properly using take-home doses of methadone, failures in checking backgrounds when hiring counselors, failures in documenting prescription increases and procedures, and more are seriously threatening public safety and raising questions about the best use of public dollars.
Methadone, despite being a strong and risky narcotic itself, is prescribed to treat opiate addiction, but the rates of opiate abuse and opiate-related arrests continue to rise, as the News Tribune investigation found. In addition, since 2001, nearly 400 Minnesotans have died of methadone-involved overdoses, including at least 38 in the Northland.
The newspaper found methadone patients selling their doses on the streets for hundreds of dollars rather than using their prescriptions to get better. Only about 5 percent of patients successfully complete methadone treatment.
And the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the agency charged with oversight and licensing of the state's methadone clinics, wasn't even keeping track of how much public money was being spent on methadone treatment until the News Tribune asked for figures. Those figures showed a 231 percent increase in public spending from 2005 to 2011, from
$3.2 million to $10.6 million. Taxpayers can demand to know how their money is being spent and whether it's being spent wisely.
Revoking the license of the clinic in Duluth may be the right thing to do, even if some predict an increase in street crime as a result as addicts seek their drugs and fixes elsewhere. And keeping people off heroin does have public health benefits, including less crime and fewer shared needles causing hepatitis and HIV.
But is it enough? Does methadone treatment even work? A 5 percent success rate suggests otherwise -- unless completion of treatment isn't the real goal. But if it's not, what is? Just what are Minnesota taxpayers paying to accomplish?
The News Tribune's investigation clearly showed that clearer goals, tighter controls and more active -- as well as proactive -- state oversight could benefit public safety and improve rehabilitation hopes.