An Innovative Solution to an Old Problem
Anne Arundel County, located just south of Baltimore, is tight in the grip of this country’s heroin epidemic. Consider that there were forty-eight overdose deaths in 2014 alone. Consider that there were 204 heroin related ER visits in 2013 alone.
Consider that Steve Schuh, the County Executive, declared heroin abuse to be a public health emergency this past January. Consider that from January to April of this year, sixteen people have overdosed and died.
Consider that, from a financial standpoint, Anne Arundel has paid over 2.5 million dollars since 2013 for citizens to get rides to methadone clinics. In fact, between now and this time last year, over 23,000 people have already taken these state-funded rides.
This program, helping opioid addicts without personal transportation or access to public transportation, is one way Anne Arundel County has been fighting heroin addiction. Well, thanks to a veteran substance abuse worker, there may be another way!
Enter Ron Grossman, who’s been involved in the mental health and addiction treatment fields for thirty-five years. He has plans for a mobile Suboxone and methadone clinic that would travel around the county. Not only would this save money for the state, but it would connect those that need treatment the most with help.
What’s Grossman’s name for his unique project? A Road Less Traveled. Up to now, it certainly has been. Let’s hope he can change that!
Mobile Methadone Clinic? Sounds Strange
As heroin has tightened its stranglehold on Maryland, on the whole United States in fact, we’ve seen an uptick in medication-assisted therapy. This is as true in suburban Baltimore as it is in rural Indiana. Still, there remains some skepticism.
Case in point – there was recently a hotly debated fight over opening a methadone clinic in Pasadena, a small town in Anne Arundel County. This fight came on the heels of the County Health Officer, Dr. Jinlene Chan, admitted there was a lack of treatment services in the central and south parts of the county.
With this lack of resources in mind, Grossman and his partners came up with an innovative solution. Thus, A Road Less Traveled was born. What exactly is this program though? How will they make a methadone clinic mobile and, more importantly, will it positively impact Maryland’s fight against heroin?
Well, Grossman has teamed up with Dr. Lee Goodman. Goodman, an Annapolis based addiction professional, has high hopes for their mobile clinic. He’d like to see it treat 300 patients each day.
Grossman and Goodman plan to accomplish this by making two stops daily, for four hours each time, across the street from participating pharmacies. Patients would come aboard the clinic and be seen by a doctor. They would then walk across the street and fill a prescription for methadone or Suboxone.
To keep patients accountable – after all, heroin addicts are a notoriously unreliable bunch – they would be tested before receiving a renewal on any prescriptions. Patients would also have access to a therapist at A Road Less Traveled, as well as receiving weekly counseling offsite.
So far, A Road Less Traveled is still in the planning stages. Grossman and Goodman are trying to obtain a formal agreement from the county before they begin operation. They’re also hopeful for other state funds available for medication-assisted therapy programs.
The Public Response Hasn’t Been Great
Despite offering a valuable service to an at-need population, A Road Less Traveled has received a less than stellar public reaction. Dr. Chan, the County Health Officer mentioned above, has had perhaps the best response – and hers is still ambiguous.
When asked about Grossman and Goodman’s project, Dr. Chan responded,
“It’s not necessarily a good idea or a bad idea…If it can be executed well and it provides good service for the residents of Anne Arundel County, then I would be a proponent of it” (Capital Gazette).
A Road Less Traveled has faced a similar response from County Executive Steve Schuh. Despite trying to meet with Schuh since he took office in January, Grossman and Goodman have yet to sit down with him. Schuh’s spokesperson did issue a statement that county officials are interested in the idea, but need a “better grasp of the proposal.”
A number of local politicians are also hesitant to the mobile methadone clinic model. Councilman Andrew Pruski offered limited support, saying that A Road Less Traveled was worth looking at. Councilman Derek Fink offered a similar response. He said that while medication-assisted therapy clinics can be beneficial, they shouldn’t impact the quality of life of county residents.
It looks like public officials aren’t flocking to this idea of a mobile methadone clinic. It looks like they’re waiting to see how others respond and whether the public picks up support for the idea. This despite the fact that people are dying in record numbers from heroin and painkiller overdoses.
Look, I’m not an expert on methadone clinics and medication-assisted therapies. I’m not a doctor or a public health official. I do, however, have firsthand experience with heroin addiction and overdose. I struggled with it for several years before finally getting sober.
In my opinion, and this is just my opinion, anything that has the potential to save lives is a good thing. While more traditional, abstinence based approaches are still the gold standard for addiction treatment – A Road Less Traveled could save lives. What else do you need to know?