PLATTSBURGH — Locals suffering from opiate addiction can now receive methadone treatment in the North Country.
In November, Conifer Park’s Plattsburgh Outpatient Clinic launched a methadone maintenance program, which, according to Joe LaCoppola, assistant director of Outpatient Services for Conifer Park, is the first of its kind to open in the state in 15 years.
Previously, he noted, area residents would have to travel to Albany almost daily to receive the medication.
“We believe as an agency it’s important for people to receive treatment in the community they reside in,” LaCoppola said.
Though methadone is itself an opiate, it is given in therapeutic doses, which are just enough to prevent opiate withdrawal symptoms, according to Michelle Collings, director of the Plattsburgh Outpatient Clinic.
However, she continued, such doses are low enough that patients do not exhibit any signs or symptoms of being under the influence.
Because individuals are coming to the clinic six days a week to receive the medication, Collings said, they are being medically monitored and are less likely to divert from treatment.
‘THE WHOLE PERSON’
Unlike many methadone programs, LaCoppola noted, Plattsburgh’s requires patients to engage in treatment, including group and individual therapy, in addition to receiving the drug.
“They’ve got to be committed to come into treatment because we can give anybody all the medication in the world, but if they don’t really understand this disease of addiction and get the tools that they need … they’re really not going to do well,” he said.
The clinic, Collings added, strives to educate clients about their addiction and teach coping skills to prevent relapse.
Patients are also provided assistance with things like finding a primary care physician and gaining employment and are encouraged to attend self-help meetings.
“We treat the whole person,” Collings said.
The medication-supported recovery is not appropriate to treat all cases of opiate addiction, she noted, and clients are thoroughly evaluated by clinic staff before a particular course of treatment is pursued.
“Somebody just asking for methadone doesn’t automatically get methadone,” Collings said.
However, LaCoppola noted, there is evidence that methadone therapy can help addicts be successful in their recovery efforts, as it allows them to participate in treatment without the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms.
While it may not be possible in 100 percent of cases, he added, the goal is to eventually eliminate clients’ methadone dependence.
“We believe as an agency it’s unethical that someone think they should be on a medication for life,” LaCoppola said.
The clinic’s decision to offer methadone services, both he and Collings said, was motivated by the area’s heroin epidemic.
In fact, noted Plattsburgh City Police Chief Desmond Racicot, “there are more heroin-related deaths and overdoses in the area than people know about.”
‘DOING VERY WELL’
In addition to applying to state and federal agencies for a licence to dispense the highly-regulated substance, LaCoppola said, the clinic had to get approval from the Clinton County Community Services Board.
“We’ve had a lot of support,” Collings said.
While nobody wants heroin addicts in their community, she added, the reality is they’re already here, so it makes sense to provide treatment options.
“Obviously, these things are very regulated, and if it can help somebody from taking an illicit drug off the street (and instead going to) a controlled, medicated, supervised environment where rehab and consolation and are a big part of it, there’s a chance of saving people,” Racicot said.
The Plattsburgh methadone program currently comprises 12 clients, according to Collings, and is off to a successful start.
“The patients are doing very well and are very compliant and already have a better quality of life in just a few short months,” she said.
The clinic has also begun studying the outcomes of the program’s patients, LaCoppola noted.
“There’s a good number of patients. We believe, if we give them the opportunity with good quality care and the wrap-around services, that they should be successful in being able to be free of all medication,” he said.
— Staff Writer Felicia Krieg contributed to this report
TO LEARN MORE
For more information about Conifer Park's Plattsburgh Outpatient Clinic, call 561-0130 or visit coniferpark.com/plattsburgh-outpatient-clinic.