Alaska editorial: Full methadone program should be reinstated

Posted: Monday, July 07, 2008

Heroin use is on the rise in Alaska. But the state this past year cut back the most successful treatment program for most addicts - use of methadone. The state reduced grants for the sole methadone treatment program in Anchorage by $20,000.

Lack of effective treatment endangers the lives of those hooked on this highly addictive drug. They are left with no good options. Addicts who want to quit will continue to rob and steal to support their habits.

Alaska should offer this service on demand for heroin users who want to stop.

Both the Fairbanks and Anchorage clinics are filled to capacity. The Anchorage clinic had 77 clients and about 27 on a waiting list last week.

As of March, the Anchorage center began only accepting pregnant women because it is short of the funding needed to expand.

The number of those waiting may have dropped because people gave up after months of calling.

How did such a wealthy state start short-funding heroin treatment right when use of the drug is climbing rapidly?

Two things happened: The Legislature cut grant funding for these kinds of programs by a third and it tried to more carefully ration the money by tying funding to tighter performance reviews. In the more austere funding climate, the Anchorage clinic got dinged in its performance review.

As a result, the clinic lost $20,000 of its grant.

That's inexcusable when the state is so rich.

It's not the program provider that gets hurt by such a decision. The individual addicts who can't get in suffer. The innocent children of heroin users, who are being raised badly, suffer. The community suffers, as heroin users continue to commit crimes and fill jails.

How about just helping the methadone clinic meet the standards?

To participate, drug users must come to the clinic and take a daily dose. Methadone is addictive, but is cheaper, healthier for babies in the womb, and less expensive than heroin.

The Anchorage clinic says the cost of methadone treatment and counseling works out to less than $50 per day. Compare that to the $500-a-day cost of a heroin habit, funded by a life of crime.

There's an alternative drug, buprenorphine, administered by some qualified doctors for those who have insurance or can afford it.

But most heroin users' lives are not that together. They must rely on government-supported programs.

When you've only got one methadone treatment program in each of the state's two major cities, cutting funding for not achieving a specific level of performance isn't the answer.

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