Drug clinic proposes new heroin treatment Addiction Services wants county to fund LAAM program

October 18, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Every day, Frank McGloin's patients -- many wearing business suits and work uniforms -- drive along a wooded road and past a group of Columbia's tract homes to a treatment center where they are desperately seeking help to save their lives.

"Most of them look like you and me, [except] their faces will show distress," said McGloin, director of Howard County's Addiction Services Center.

But the county doesn't offer the treatment they need, so they usually go to another county or, more likely, go back to their addiction.

McGloin said he wants to change that by introducing a LAAM program to the county, one of the nation's newest drug treatments for heroin. He says he realizes that some neighbors might worry about how the program would affect the community.

But considering the area's skyrocketing heroin use, he worries what will happen without it, he said.

"I think a pretty typical image is that [addicts] look like bums and that they are going to hurt you," McGloin said. "But many go to work just like anyone else."

Similar to methadone, LAAM -- levo-alpha-acetylmethadol -- is taken three times a week by addicts. Methadone requires daily doses. Two private clinics in Ellicott City offer methadone treatment. Users of either medication receive their treatment at a clinic.

"It is a man-made painkiller," said Todd Rosendale, chief of policy and program development at the state's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Agency. "It stops withdrawal and the effects of withdrawal."

LAAM was developed as a painkiller in 1948, but it was not until 1969 that researchers -- including many in Baltimore -- began to look at LAAM as a drug treatment. It was approved as a treatment for heroin addiction in July 1983.

Under the proposed program, a van would visit the clinic in the Rivers Corporate Center in Columbia two or three times a week to treat patients. McGloin says he expects the program to treat about 65 addicts.

Howard County police officials say heroin use has been a rapidly growing problem, especially in the past two years. That's when they believe drug sellers began trying to get more people addicted to the drug by distributing heroin with 70 percent purity. In the next three years, officials believe, sellers will drop purity levels to 2 percent or 3 percent, which is much cheaper to produce.

"The profits will go through the roof," said Lt. Keith Lessner. "People will have to buy the drug just so they won't get sick."

A growing problem

McGloin said that two years ago his clinic saw about two heroin-addicted patients a week. Now it sees up to 12.

Statewide, heroin use has jumped 25 percent since 1992, from 42,000 to 56,000.

The county "is not in this by themselves," Lessner said.

Health Department officials began to consider introducing LAAM in February after County Executive Charles I. Ecker added $100,000 to the Health Department's budget. When health officials narrowed their options on how to spend the surplus, among them were LAAM and expanding an acupuncture program.

"I think we have to put more money into treatment programs and education," said Ecker, who supports funding for LAAM.

But officials said they recognize that there also are drawbacks. The treatment has a high failure rate because many patients do not regularly take the treatment. Officials also realize there likely NTC will be objections to bringing the LAAM program to the county.

Drawbacks

"Sure, I worry about community reaction, but I worry about if we don't do anything about it," Ecker said. "I would think we would have to go out and talk to the community."

Joyce Boyd, head of the county's Health Department, said officials probably will make a recommendation for the funding by the end of the month. Any proposal would require approval by the county, state alcohol and drug abuse officials, and the federal Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration.

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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