Anchorage methadone clinic halts admissions

Part of overcrowding problem is a surge in heroin in the region

Posted: Sunday, October 04, 2009

ANCHORAGE - The only methadone clinic in Anchorage has stopped accepting new patients.

The Narcotic Drug Treatment Center told The Anchorage Daily News it has 87 patients but is only funded for 75. Twelve people are on a waiting list.

Clinical director Ron Greene says it will continue to add to the waiting list and treat new patients when space becomes available.

Part of the problem is a surge in heroin available in Southcentral Alaska, Greene said.

"It's in such abundance and it's so cheap out there that everything else is secondary," Greene said. "We don't even have a close second running drug of choice on this program. Right now, it is heroin and has been for the past three years."

Sgt. Kathy Lacey, supervisor of the vice unit, agreed it's a huge problem.

"It used to be that every prostitute that we arrested on the street had a crack pipe, and now they're all hooked on heroin."

Many of them also say they want help, "which we would never hear with crack-cocaine," Lacey said. "Heroin addiction is so dramatic and so compelling that it completely takes over their lives and they want to quit."

Police have arrested more than 60 heroin dealers in the past year, but Lacey said the drug remains cheap and available.

The drug treatment center gives patients liquid methadone to ease withdrawal symptoms. It's one of just two methadone programs in the state. The other is the Interior AIDS Association in Fairbanks. Executive director Anna Nelson said it's at capacity with 32 people and more on the waiting list.

Greene said some counts have estimated there are 16,000 opiate addicts in Alaska.

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