Long Stigmatized, Methadone Clinics Multiply in Some States

By: - October 31, 2018 12:00 am

A patient takes a dose of methadone at an opioid treatment clinic in Chatsworth, Georgia. The state is among a handful with a statutory limit on the number of clinics that can be licensed. Kevin D. Liles/The Associated Press

While Congress and the Trump administration were promoting greater use of the addiction medication buprenorphine to quell the opioid epidemic, a handful of states were licensing new methadone clinics in dozens of the nation’s hardest-hit communities.

In fact, the methadone treatment industry, which began in the late 1960s, grew more in the past four years than it has in the past two decades, said Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence Inc., which represents methadone treatment providers.

Between 2014 and 2018, the methadone industry added 254 new clinics, according to data from the Drug Enforcement Administration. In the two decades before that, increases in the number of programs were only incremental, Parrino said. “We haven’t seen such a dramatic increase in the industry since the 1970s.”

But despite a national drumbeat for more science-based treatment for people addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin and other illicit opioids, the opioid treatment industry’s expansion has mostly gone unheralded.

Unlike buprenorphine, which can be prescribed by specially licensed practitioners and taken orally at home, or injectable Vivitrol, which can be administered by any doctor, methadone must be doled out daily at highly regulated and often very visible clinics.

Crowded parking lots, long lines and the potential for diversion of the medication have led many states to limit the number of clinics they license.

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Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.