Back in November 2017, county Supervisor Virginia Bass and State Senator Mike McGuire announced at their Town Hall meeting that $4.8 million are coming to Humboldt County to fight our opioid epidemic.
This took all of us in the addiction field joyously by surprise. When was it coming and how was it going to be divided to help local treatment programs who have been around for decades, struggling to provide services to Humboldt communities? These programs have done a Herculean job with little financial support and little acknowledgement for the lives they have saved and the families they have served.
You can imagine the disappointment and anger that engulfed the dedicated people already doing this work when we heard that the funds will be going to a for-profit company that provides methadone maintenance services in communities all over California. This company is Aegis. Now it made sense why the Town Hall meeting last November seemed like an infomercial for Aegis.
As a for-profit corporation, Aegis has a vested interest in turning a profit, which means they have a vested interest in keeping addicts on methadone to keep them coming back. This is in comparison to Open Door Clinics (a non-profit entity) which has been serving Humboldt County since the 1970s and is already successfully running Suboxone clinics. While Suboxone serves a similar purpose in keeping addicts from craving opioids and helping them to better function in their lives, Suboxone is not itself as addicting as Methadone and has fewer side effects. Suboxone does, however, contain opioids, but is an antagonist and an agonist. This means it reduces cravings during detoxification and provides a barrier to using again because it causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. Suboxone is not treatment — it is a medical approach to detoxification. Methadone is significantly hard on the body and has the ability to harm a pregnant woman’s fetus in the womb.
So the questions have to be asked: Why is methadone needed along with the Suboxone treatment in such a small, rural area as Humboldt? In my opinion, it is not. The California Department of Health Care Services, which approved this grant, obviously did not do its due diligence and is spending millions on a duplication of services that already exist. Once informed about these millions to be spent in Humboldt, why didn’t Supervisor Bass and State Senator McGuire inform the Department of Health Care Services that the money could be better spent on expanding services already functioning? It would be nice to see them supporting the needs of the community that already has viable programs that are in desperate need of money.
Where is the needs assessment that supported this decision? None of the current providers were even questioned about what is needed. As far as I can find, there was no needs assessment done, which I believe is a requirement for grant funds. Also I understand that government grants are supposed to be given to non-profit organizations.
It is clear that Bass and McGuire were not watching out for local agencies like Humboldt Recovery Center, Crossroads Recovery, HART, or the Alcohol, Drug Counseling Services (the new Waterfront Recovery Services) and the Tribal programs such as United Indian Health Services, Hoopa AOD and social services and others.
my opinion of how that money should be spent in a way that would truly serve
our community by improving and strengthening agencies already working
hard and providing
that are actually needed, in addition to the current programs:
- Adolescent drug abuse treatment programs, both inpatient and outpatient. Currently, adolescents either have to be sent out of the area or wait until they are adults and become part of the criminal justice system, or a parent of a child in need of social services. Programs addressing the needs of this population would help avoid these kids progressing downward in their addiction and make our community a safer place.
- Quality transitional living houses are desperately needed. ADCS has three old houses in great need of repair. Addicts leaving inpatient programs have few, if any, options to live in safe-and-sober homes while getting grounded again in our community with their family, careers and education.
- Prevention programs that are evidenced-based have never been a priority in this area. By funding programs like these from elementary up through high schools, we will also serve to minimize risk factors in the lives of our children and teach them to make healthy decisions and feel better about themselves.
- College of the Redwoods has had an Addiction Studies program for about 30 years. The focus of the program is to train and help graduates achieve their state credentials as a California State Certified Addiction Counselor. This program needs community support in terms of some of this funding as well as attracting more students. Most of the staff at the local treatment programs are graduates of CR’s program. The future of the job market in this field is already showing increasing demand. Many of the students also go on to HSU for advanced degrees.
- Programs like HRC and Crossroads, in particular, need those funds to improve their physical buildings, and all programs need funding for technology and more trained staff.
- An intensive (10 or more hours per week) addiction Outpatient Program for both people living at home or in sober living, which provides a continuum of care not presently available.
On March 29, Bass and McGuire will be holding their second Town Hall on the opioid epidemic at 6:30 p.m. in the Sequoia Conference Center. Please show up and support efforts to address the opioid epidemic.
Stuart Altschuler, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Ferndale. He has been in Humboldt since 2007, and he has 40 years experience in the addiction treatment and education field.
Ed. note: Alex Dodd, CEO of Aegis Treatment Centers LLC, acquired a copy of the above opinion piece before it was published. After speaking with the Outpost Tuesday evening, Dodd asked to submit the following rebuttal. It is reprinted below in full:
The $4.8MM grant funding is being spent on helping existing resources with the fight against the opioid epidemic. This includes helping fund the Humboldt Safe Rx and Del Norte and Hoopa coalitions in areas such as community outreach, distribution of Narcan, safe medication disposal sites, training and more. Importantly, the grant funding is there to increase the availability of Medication Assisted Treatment in rural areas, and pay for treatment for patients who do not have insurance or MediCal.
Redwoods Rural Health has become a “spoke” in a Hub and Spoke system and will use its funding to hire more nurses and clinicians to treat more patients. We are in discussions with Open Door, Humboldt State University, Southern Trinity Health Services and United Indian Health Services and hope they too will sign up as spokes to enable them to receive the grant funding to help them treat more patients.
Aegis is the Administrator of the grant funding. Not one cent of the grant funding will be spent on opening the clinic in Eureka. We are subject to a rigorous Federal “Single Audit” to ensure the grant funds have been administered correctly.
We believe firmly in what we do, Medication Assisted Treatment, which has been the Standard of Care for the treatment of Opioid Addiction for 50 years. Our clinics use all three Federally approved Medications, Suboxone, Methadone and Vivitrol, along with Individual and Group counseling in a structured, medically supervised environment. We don’t believe one size fits all when it comes to medication. That is a decision made between patient and doctor as to what works best.
The scale of this problem is huge and every person who suffers from opioid addiction is unique. They have to be given the chance to access whatever treatment works for them, whether it be faith based, abstinence based, Medication Assisted Treatment based, residential or outpatient.
Let’s not forget that we are all in partnership dealing with this epidemic and that Humboldt County still has one of the highest overdose rates in California, and that the existing treatment facilities have waiting lists. No one should have to wait for treatment.