Posts Tagged ‘best practice’

Methadone Clinics Behaving Badly

Not all methadone clinics are equal. We know what qualities are associated with the best outcomes, and hopefully every clinic is trying to improve.

First, many clinics should be called “opioid treatment centers,” because they offer more than methadone; they also prescribe and dispense buprenorphine. In the future, buprenorphine will likely be the first line treatment for opioid addiction replacement medication, with methadone saved for people who don’t do well on buprenorphine, usually because it’s not strong enough. In the very near future, buprenorphine may replace methadone as the treatment of choice for opioid-addicted pregnant patients.

Besides the ability to offer buprenorphine, the best clinics have well-trained staff with low turnover. This seems obvious. It’s difficult for a patient to participate in counseling with enthusiasm when they’ve had three different counselors within four months. Sadly, this is an area of counseling that has difficulty retaining counselors.

 And while we always need to be open to learn from our patients, a counselor should already know the basics about opioid addiction and its treatment with replacement medications before he sees the first patient. I’ve heard the occasional counselor voice doubts about the benefits of replacement medications. If the counselor can’t wholeheartedly support their patients, they need to go back and read the basic research, or move on to a different field. An ambivalent and uninformed counselor can taint the treatment milieu at an otherwise good clinic.

Doctors prescribing the methadone or buprenorphine should be willing to give adequate doses. Clinics who were stingy with dosing had worse patient outcomes in many studies. In the past, clinics were reluctant to dose above 60 or 70mg, but we know now that patients do better at adequate doses, and there’s a wide variation between patients as to what’s an adequate dose. Most patients stabilize on between 80 to 120mg, but some need much more and some need much less. Cookie cutter dosing isn’t best practice.

Counselors shouldn’t have overwhelming caseloads. The regulations say each counselor should have no more than 50 patients, but even that’s too many with the growing documentation requirements.

Clinics shouldn’t let a few patients, not doing well and causing chaos in the community, to remain in the clinic, dosing daily with methadone or buprenorphine. The reputation of opioid treatment centers is too important and too fragile. In many communities, laws have been passed to limit the number and type of drug addiction treatment centers, because of the community’s perception that the patients will create havoc locally. In reality, very few patients behave like this, but the ones that do create the illusion that all patients will drive while impaired, or shoplift at local stores. Some patients are too sick or too unwilling to do well at an opioid treatment center. These centers owe it to their other patients and their community to refer patients doing poorly to other options.

Now for the number one most important factor that determines how well a patient will do while in treatment at an opioid treatment center…a warm and empathetic relationship with treatment center staff. This means all staff, not just their counselor. It includes the nurses and doctors and clerical staff.

It appears that behavioral change with addiction is more likely to occur when the people trying to help are caring and compassionate.

What an epiphany of the obvious.