Methadone makes debut

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Addicts may receive their first methadone doses this week at Shelby County Treatment Center, the county’s first methadone treatment center.

Some of the methadone could come from VistaPharm, a company located on Cahaba Valley Drive in Birmingham. VistaPharm, along with Cebert Pharmaceuticals in Birmingham, are two of three companies that sell methadone in the United States. Cebert sells methadone made through contracts with other companies. VistaPharm makes its own supply of the drug in pharmaceutical labs in Largo, Fla.

Susan Staats-Sidwell, owner of the Shelby County Treatment Center on U.S. Highway 31 in Saginaw, said the Drug Enforcement Administration has approved the facility for dispensing methadone. Staats-Sidwell said she is awaiting arrival of the first doses of methadone and the clinic could begin treating patients this week.

Already, patients have registered for treatment at the clinic and Staats-Sidwell said she was &8220;shocked&8221; by the number of patients. She is expecting more than 100 patients when staff begins dosing.

Clinic staff began pre-admitting patients in October.

&8220;We have underestimated our count,&8221; Staats-Sidwell said. &8220;Our first day we were shocked.&8221;

Although Shelby County is just beginning to dispense methadone, the county is not new to the manufacture of the drug. Methadone is used to treat drug addicts recovering from addiction to heroin and to painkillers such as Oxycontin and Lortab. It is also a pain reliever.

VistaPharm is a small company with headquarters in Birmingham. Roy Thrush, president of the company, said one of the fastest-growing areas of methadone marketing is as a pain-management drug.

Thrush said methadone that is used illegally outside of clinical settings usually comes from its use in pain-management rather than from methadone clinics.

Thrush said the reason is because methadone is prescribed in a tablet form when used for pain management. Methadone clinics, like the Shelby County Treatment Center, dispense methadone in a liquid form.

Despite concerns from Saginaw residents about attracting drug addicts to their community, Thrush said methadone clinics are not the problem.

&8220;The reality of it is that drug users are already in the community or there wouldn’t be a need for the product,&8221; he said. &8220;The fact is, the people who come to clinics are seeking help. It’s a solution more than it is a problem.&8221;

The civil appeals court ruled on Oct. 21 that Shelby County Treatment Center could begin operation, lifting an injunction imposed against the facility in 2004.

Despite losing the injunction, Alan Edmondson said he will continue fighting the clinic. Edmondson lives next door to the clinic and fears deteriorating property values and problems caused by drug addicts.

Edmondson also claimed that Saginaw residents were never given sufficient opportunity to oppose the clinic. He claims Staats-Sidwell deceived the community by locating in unincorporated Saginaw.

Edmondson and other Saginaw residents have asked for the civil appeals court to re-hear the case. If the court denies the request, Edmondson said he will ask for the Alabama Supreme Court to hear the case.

&8220;We started the fight to stop it from coming and we’re going to continue with it as far as it can take us,&8221; Edmondson said