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Delays In Issuing Licenses For New Methadone Clinics Hurting Rural Communities

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Operation PAR
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The state’s invalidated process for licensing new methadone clinics is delaying help for opioid addicts in rural communities.

Many in those communities have to drive an hour or more to reach methadone clinics in more urban areas, said Jon Essenburg, vice president of medication assistance at Operation PAR, which runs several clinics in west Florida from Lee to Hernando counties.

“Barriers and obstacles in front of anybody who is addicted to any drug when they are trying to seek treatment can be devastating,” Essenburg said.

Operation PAR had intended to apply to open methadone clinics in five rural counties: Hendry, Hardee, DeSoto, Glades and Manatee. But it was shut out of the process in October when the Department of Children and Families chose companies to apply for new methadone clinic licenses.

In choosing the companies, the state used a first-come, first-served process, which resulted in five providers getting applications accepted for 49 clinics.

Operation PAR and two other providers challenged the process and a judge ruled that it was unfair.

That means the state will have to develop a new process for issuing licenses for new opioid clinics.

In the meantime, methadone treatment for opioid addicts in some rural counties is non-existent.

For example, Operation PAR operates a methadone clinic in Hernando County that serves about 50 patients who have to travel from Citrus County, which has no treatment provider.

“Those are the 50 patients who are able to make that trek,” Essenburg said. “There’s probably a lot of other people who are struggling with opioid use disorder and they need treatment. but they can’t travel that far to get it.”  

Many will just continue using, he said.

“If they are at that stage where they believe ‘yes, I do need help,’ and they cannot find it easily, then they are much more likely to give up on that goal,” Essenburg said. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for someone to receive treatment.”

Methadone treatment for opioid use disorder has the highest rate of success and effectiveness when compared to other treatments.   

“It’s kind of like freezing a problem and buying them time to get their life back together,” Essenburg said.

Julio Ochoa is editor of Health News Florida.