A spike in heroin and prescription painkiller abuse in central New York is the reason behind the expansion of a program that helps addicts.
Crouse Hospital in Syracuse says it’s expanding its opioid program, the only one in the area, in response to a community need for methadone treatment. Monica Taylor, director of behavior health at Crouse, says it won’t happen overnight.
"Over the next 90 weeks we are hoping to bring our capacity up to 800," Taylor said. "We’re currently around 500, and to safely do this we have to take our time. We can’t just open the door and say come on in. There’s a process involved to safely admit someone to the program.”
The need for the program comes as the number of heroin overdose deaths in central New York climbs and the misuse of prescription drugs continues to rise.
Mark Raymond, clinical director of the program, says the two are connected.
“Because of the prescription drugs becoming less available, now you have people moving to heroin, which is an opiate," Raymond said. "They’re both in the opiate class. So now you have people who never thought they’d use heroin, using heroin as a way to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and deal with that addiction.”
Raymond says methadone, a synthetic opiate based drug, is a proven way to treat people addicted to opiates. Some patients are on it their entire life.
"It’s shown to help people not overdose and die, die from complications of using drugs, reduce criminal activity, increase productivity such as work, improve social functioning in their families," Raymond explains.
Taylor adds that another focus of the expansion is getting more pregnant women involved, because of the high number of babies born in Onondaga County addicted to opiates.
“We have seen in our methadone program an increase of pregnant women being admitted," Taylor said. "And the advantage of being on methadone versus being still out on the streets using heroin and all other kinds of drugs is that through the pregnancy the baby won’t go in and out of withdrawal. The fetus won’t go in and out of withdrawal, which would have adverse effects on the baby. In some cases it could be a miscarriage or additional problems.”
The Crouse program serves patients from 17 counties, and there are waiting lists. And that points to another issue says Taylor - the lack of programs upstate.
“We know in New York City, they have a lot of programs and I don’t think they have the issue of waiting lists for programs," Taylor said. "I do believe if I lived in New York City, I could probably walk into a clinic today and be admitted in a few days. Up here there’s just a real lack of programs.”