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Summit County's only methadone clinic sees spike in patients battling opioid addiction

Posted at 5:27 PM, Dec 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-21 17:31:00-05

Rosie Orem, a 34-year-old mother from Cuyahoga Falls, took pain pills for fun as a teenager. She eventually got hooked on them and that turned into a heroin addiction that lasted about 15 years.

"It's not that you're a bad person and don't care. It's just that it overtakes your brain," Orem said. "Once it really gets you, there's no fun involved at all. It's just misery. It takes everything you have."

Orem lost her job and temporarily lost custody of her two children.

However, she has been clean for more than two years and credits methadone for saving her life. She regained custody of her kids and is pregnant with her third child.

Orem comes to the Community Heath Center, Summit County's only methadone clinic, every day to get her liquid dose of the medication.

"I have no cravings at all," she said. "Using heroin doesn't cross my mind."

Kathleen Mahoney, the director of medication-assisted treatment, said a few years back the center treated 200 to 300 patients with methadone, but that number has basically doubled.  This year, 555 clients are using MAT. 80 percent of them take methadone.

"We've seen a dramatic increase over the past several years with patients seeking treatment options for opioid use disorder," Mahoney said. "This is a life-saving medication for a lot of patients."

Mahoney said two-thirds of the patients come to facility daily to be monitored while taking methadone. The rest of the patients have take-home privileges.

While methadone is also a narcotic, Mahoney explained it can lessen severe withdrawal symptoms and cravings for illicit opiates. Some will stay on methadone for a few years. Others may take it for the rest of their lives.

"We don't use the term addiction when we're talking about methadone as long as somebody is using it appropriately," she said. "What methadone does for a lot of patients is it relieves them of that obsession like, 'I have to get something to feel better' because they already feel okay."

Rosie isn't ready to stop taking methadone yet, but she hopes to wean herself off the drug in 2018.

"As a mother, it's important to be a good mother and I'm just thankful to have this place."