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WEB EXTRA: Inside a high security Methadone clinic in Manhattan

Posted at 7:36 PM, Jan 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-29 20:15:55-05

KIPS BAY, Manhattan (PIX11) -- The white, plastic bottles containing the reddish-pink liquid that is Methadone were locked inside a safe, inside a locked closet, when PIX 11 News visited  Mount Sinai’s 25th Street clinic on Second Avenue. Regina Jeter-Jemmott, a registered nurse, showed us the rituals she goes through every day to make sure the machine is calibrating Methadone doses accurately, before she begins dispensing the cups for recovering heroin addicts.

“You have patients who may get as little as 1 mg,” Jeter-Jemmott said, “and then you have some patients that may get 200.”

It was very difficult for PIX 11 to get permission to film inside a Methadone clinic, which is a federally-regulated entity.

At least 31 of these clinics are located in the five boroughs. Methadone was one of the earliest treatments used  to suppress cravings in heroin addicts, dating back to the 1970’s.  At Mount Sinai, we met 38-year old, John, who’s been treated with Methadone for two years now.

“They started me off with 20 mg,” he told PIX11.

But was that enough to stop the heroin cravings? “Absolutely not,” he replied.

He told us his dose was increased to 150 mg, at one point, and it’s now at 140.

Methadone clinics have been stigmatized over the years, and nurse-managers and physicians are trying to change that.

“About 50,000 people are on Methadone in New York City,” said Dr. Don DesJarlais, long-time director of the Baron Edmund de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.  “For some people, a year or two is sufficient,” he told PIX 11.  “Some people will remain on Methadone for life.”

DesJarlais added, “Beware of anyone who says there’s only one way to treat drug use problems.”

In recent years, middle-class families have gravitated toward prescriptions for Suboxone to assist young, heroin addicts.

They are hoping for a drug-free recovery, at some point.  The pills are taken at home, and addicts hoping to permanently kick opiate use don’t have to get their daily dose at a clinic.

Dr. DesJarlais told us Methadone, a generic drug, can be dispensed for as little as 15 cents a patient, while Suboxone costs several dollars a dose.  A monthly shot called Vivitrol, costs more than a thousand dollars a dose and can be very difficult to get insurance coverage for.

JoAnn Pietro of Staten Island University Hospital oversees Methadone programs in Richmond County and in Brooklyn and has battled to erase the stigma associated with Methadone.

“There is not one drug for everybody,” Pietro said to PIX 11, when discussing medication-assisted treatment options for clients trying to get off heroin.  “Suboxone and Methadone each have their place.”