Some methadone dispensed for treatment has gotten into unintended hands in Maryland, but officials say they don’t have evidence that diversion of the narcotic is a major problem in the state.
Police executing search warrants found both filled and empty bottles of the synthetic morphine-like drug at locations where none of the occupants were enrolled in treatment programs, said Maryland State Police Sgt. Richard J. Sivic, a member of a multi-jurisdictional narcotics law enforcement unit in Allegany County.
Discoveries of what appeared to be diverted methadone there spiked over about six months last year but have decreased since, Sivic said.
That police had found a significant amount of diverted methadone in Allegany County was news to Donald Hall, director of quality assurance for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration in the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“If that’s the case, they aren’t letting us know,” said Hall, whose office conducts compliance checks at the roughly 60 methadone treatment centers in the state.
“I would think if police were finding take-home bottles in different places, it would be good if they came to us — we would investigate,” Hall said.
Allegany County has four methadone clinics, including one in LaVale run by CRC Health Group.
According to news reports, employees who worked at CRC Health Group clinics in other states criticized the firm for understaffing and practices that former workers reportedly said kept profits up but made it easier for take-home methadone to be sold, traded or shared.
In addition to the LaVale facility, CRC operates methadone treatment clinics in the Pine Heights neighborhood of Baltimore and in the Cecil County seat in Elkton.
Hall said his office is investigating a recent complaint about the Pine Heights clinic, but that most of the problems it has found at CRC clinics are not atypical of such operations, where “like any business, staffing goes up and down.”
The Pine Heights clinic reported discharging from the program a patient suspected of involvement in a drug transaction, but suspicions cannot be reported to police because of patient confidentiality laws, Hall said.
Compliance checks had found that caseloads were too large for counselors at the CRC clinic in LaVale and that two addiction counselors did not have proper credentials, but those issues were resolved, Hall said.
So were problems at the Elkton CRC clinic, where a sample of records had indicated that family treatment needs were not being assessed and that treatment plans were not up to date or sufficiently individualized, he said.
Elkton Police Capt. Matthew Donnelly said that out of a couple hundred arrests a year on drug charges, “maybe a few cases are [for] methadone.”
“If it is occurring it’s not being brought to our attention,” he said.
Allegany County Assistant State’s Attorney Sam Lane said he could not recall any details about whether methadone bottles that police found in his jurisdiction came from the clinic in LaVale.
Lane said there is no policy to inform the health department about cases, but that it would make sense to do so. “I think the only way to combat drug abuse is through a multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency approach,” he said.
Baltimore police did not respond to inquiries made over two days about methadone diversion in the city.
CRC spokeswoman Kristen Hayes did not offer specific comment but forwarded a letter from CRC chief clinical officer Philip Herschman criticizing a published report about problems at CRC clinics in a few other states, including Virginia and West Virginia, as unfair and one-sided for not mentioning their success in treating patients and stopping misuse.
While methadone is widely used to help opiate drug addicts cope with withdrawal, it also is taken to treat pain, and federal officials have said that has added to its misuse.