State moves to ease methadone crisis Patients being transferred into new programs amid clinic's Medicaid woes

April 03, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The state cut off funding this week to a methadone clinic treating more than 200 former heroin addicts in midtown Baltimore after state auditors discovered that the clinic might be overbilling the Medicaid program.

Worried that the action might throw the former addicts back into drug abuse and crime, the state is scrambling to place in other treatment programs all of the 185 Medicaid patients at the Graham-Melvin Associates Inc. clinic, at 2117 Maryland Ave., said Thomas W. Davis, director of the state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.

The state has not filed criminal charges against the directors of the clinic, one of whom is Dr. Marva Graham. The clinic is trying to remain in business by applying for state approval to receive Medicaid under a different name. The prospects for approval are uncertain, state officials said.

Officials at the clinic would not comment. One employee said Graham was on vacation.

Methadone is a synthetic narcotic drug doctors prescribe to heroin addicts to drink once a day to dull their craving for narcotics. People on the medication can suffer severe withdrawal pains similar to those associated with heroin and return to abusing drugs if they miss even two days of treatment, health officials said.

The 185 Medicaid patients panicked Monday when they received notices that they would have to find new drug treatment centers or start paying about $225 a month for methadone.

But the state has placed 105 of the 185 in other methadone programs, Davis said, and the remaining 80 should be placed within a few weeks. Those who remain at the clinic will be charged $7.50 a day.

The wait to get into a methadone center is sometimes a month, health officials said.

Alfred Carter, a 46-year-old father of six who is an unemployed dishwasher, said he might have to start breaking the law by selling one of his seven weekly methadone doses to pay for the cost of attending the clinic.

"Methadone has really helped me get my life together," said Carter, who used to sell drugs and steal to support his heroin habit. "I don't want to go back to the heroin and the robberies. Maybe I'll have to rob a bank to get the money. I really, really need this drug treatment."

Gloria Miller, a 51-year-old mother of 9-year-old triplets who lives in East Baltimore, said she was worried that she might have to steal from grocery stores to feed her children if she had to start paying for methadone.

"This program has really picked me up," she said. "My life was falling apart until I got onto methadone. But now I'm worried I'll be back on the street. What am I going to do? I have these babies to support."

Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city health commissioner, said patients such as Miller and Carter who have not been placed in other programs should not panic.

"We basically will be able to take care of everybody in other programs," Beilenson said. "The big fear we had is that these people would be back on the streets again immediately."

Last year, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene notified the clinic that auditors were worried it might be overbilling Medicaid and charging for services that were not provided, said Lawrence P. Triplett, the department's director of medical care finance and compliance.

The clinic has been receiving about $800,000 a year from Medicaid.

Without admitting wrongdoing, the clinic signed an agreement with the state in October in which it said it would stop receiving Medicaid payments as of two days ago, Triplett said.

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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