Methadone clinic hopes to open in Tri-Cities; records show disturbing details


TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) – Say the word methadone and you’re bound to get a reaction, here in the region deemed “ground zero” for the prescription drug abuse epidemic.

Some, say the highly addictive substitute drug to wean people off opiate addiction takes lives. Others, say it’s saving them.

“Methadone is a dying drug. Methadone is the number one drug involved in overdose deaths both in Tennessee and Kentucky. Methadone is on it’s way out. But methadone is a multi-billion dollar industry. And it’s not gonna die quietly,” Watauga Recovery Center President Dr. Tom Reach told News Channel 11.

“Do I think that buprenorphine is safer in the long run? Yes, I do. Do I think the population that needs medication-assisted therapy can be served with only buprenorphine? No, I don’t. There are people who do really, really well on methadone for a long time,” addiction treatment expert and professor at East Tennessee State University, Dr. Stephen Loyd said.

Crossroads Treatment Centers is the latest group to apply for a Certificate of Need (CON) in Johnson City, hoping to be the first to offer treatment in the Tri-Cities.

News Channel 11’s Kylie McGivern began her investigation into Crossroads Treatment Centers nearly a year ago. In that time, she uncovered documented reports of patients falling through the cracks.

Through a public records request with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, I obtained copies of 2011 – 2014 deficiency reports for Crossroads’ Weaverville, Asheville, and Greensboro clinics.

Among the hundreds of pages, penalties for “failure to protect patients from harm, abuse, neglect, or exploitation”, failure to ensure state and national criminal record checks for employees within five days of hire, inadequate training, dosing errors, and failure to ensure client program compliance.

If you think that’s concerning, one stood out above the rest, related to patient deaths.

At 4:30 in the morning, 50-70 miles outside theTri-Cities, long before the sun rises, the hazy glow of these lights provide what some would call a beacon of hope, for those whose lives have been consumed by darkness.

“Nobody grows up saying, ‘Oh, I want to be an addict!'” a Crossroads patient, who wanted to remain anonymous, told News Channel 11.

Many consider it the underbelly of society, a population consumed by addiction cast in to the shadows. According to state documents, for at least 300 hundred traveling from the Tri-Cities, the day starts at a Crossroads Treatment Centers’ clinic that provides methadone just across the state line in Asheville or Weaverville, North Carolina.

“I’m only 26 years old. And this clinic has saved my life.”

Many patients say the travel along the highway keeps them off the streets.

“It’s a wonderful thing.”

But the commute presents real challenges.

“I spend about…$120 a week in fuel coming over here.”

“There’s a choice sometimes between driving that extra distance and, and eating.”

Crossroads hopes to eliminate the travel barrier by opening its 10th clinic in Johnson City.

“In a lot of cases, it is the only treatment options that can keep people away from IV drug use, putting medications up their nose, doctor shopping, stealing to buy drugs. So there’s no question it’s life saving,” addiction treatment expert and professor at East Tennessee State University, Dr. Stephen Loyd said.

Dr. Loyd treats opiate-addicted pregnant women at High Point Clinic, a non-profit clinic in Johnson City.

“This is the most complex disease process that I know of,” Dr. Loyd said. “Addiction, because of it’s far-reaching effects on our families, our work, the trauma component of addiction, particularly in the women who are pregnant – these are very complicated issues.”

While he says there’s a place for methadone in the Tri-Cities, it’s a powerful drug that needs to be regulated and comprehensive treatment, done right.

“If you look at addiction in general, it’s the wild west when it comes to treatment. I mean, what kind of certification do you have to have in order to treat addiction? If you go to a cardiologist, you’re going to assume that cardiologist has been to medical school, residency, done a fellowship and that they’re qualified to stick a catheter in your heart. Try doing that for substance abuse. What kind of certifications are we looking at, what kind of training? You know, there are methadone clinics around that think it’s okay just to have someone who has just a high school education, you know, serving as a drug and alcohol counselor. And I’m not knocking a high school education. But I can tell you the problem is much too complex. You have to be way more in depth than somebody who has just that level of education and understanding AND their only understanding being if they were addicted themselves,” Dr. Loyd said.

News Channel 11 spoke with one former Crossroads patient, Washington County native Dennis Mull, who says methadone is needed in our area, but has concerns about who will be responsible for providing the powerful drug if a clinic successfully opens in Johnson City.

Kylie: “In the 7 years that you were going to Crossroads, how many times did you actually see a physician?”

Dennis: “I seen a physician on my intake, ah – that was it.”

“I think there ought to be a step down program, and rules they ought to be strict about. And people ought to show improvement. I seen them come in there and fall out of their chair and get dosed. I’m not saying I’m perfect, cause I’m not. But I tried to do the right thing,” Mull said.

Kylie McGivern started digging through public records from other states where Crossroads operates, and found a state inspection report from Crossroads Treatment Center of Northwest Georgia. The report, from November 2012, reveals 12 of 14 appointed substance abuse counselors were not certified or trained to provide addiction-counseling services.

A state interview with the clinical director, documented in the same report, revealed, “I was not aware that you need certification in the state of Georgia. I thought a high school diploma was adequate. We hire our counselors and employ them as in training.”

Then, within a 139-page Statement of Deficiencies for Crossroads’ Greensboro clinic, dated July 2013, News Channel 11 discovered the facility failed to implement it’s discharge policy. But the detailed report reveals this was much more than an oversight. Rather, an intentional cover-up of four patient-deaths that happened on Crossroads’ watch.

Text messages from May 2013 between a counselor and associate program director, transcribed in the state report, reveal the counselor was concerned because:

“I knew [the PD (program director) #1] was lying to us (about not having to report deaths), which he was…if he had done what he was legally obligated to do, this wouldn’t be an issue… He’s not protecting us by lying… [the PD #1’s choices] have affected us all… You really thought it was a good idea (to lie to the State)? All of our careers are on the line… I answered {the State Opioid Treatment Authority’s Coordinator (SOTA) truthfully when she interviewed me… I know right from wrong… Lying is wrong… You can’t sit here and say what was going on here was ethical… I answered truthfully bc (because) it was the right thing to do… YOU put your career and license on the line when you lied when you and [the PD #1[ were asked about this (client deaths) in the beginning…”

According to the report, the associate program director replied:

“…you should have clue me in on the fact that you put my job and my license on the line… Supervisors lie all the time to protect their employees… That was a shitty selfish move on your part (to tell the State about deaths not being reported)… I don’t know what you’ll try to use against me if this goes to court… [the PD #1] has never lied to me… You may have gotten us shut down and I may not have a job… If you have a problem with your place of employment you quit… You threw us (the facility) under the bus…”

An interview with another counselor, documented in the state report revealed:

“I had to change the documentation to show that he was absent for 7 consecutive days so he could be shown as discharged and a death report would not have to be reported… It was unethical and wrong…”

A state interview with the Corporate Director of Clinical Practices, detailed in the same report, confirms Crossroads of Greensboro discharged four patients after they died.

The causes of death are not mentioned in the report.

A letter from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to Crossroads, dated August 2013, indicated the state issued a $20,000 penalty for violation of the protection from harm, abuse, neglect, or exploitation, and an intent to revoke the Greensboro clinic’s license.

However that intent was later dropped, allowing the clinic to keep its license and work out a settlement with the state on the fines.

Back in Weaverville, for the hundreds making the trek to treatment, it’s a journey they hope comes to an end, with the beginning of a Johnson City clinic.

“I have a job, I have a husband…this clinic it, it helps us – and everybody here to stay off drugs and stay on the right path.”

News Channel 11 tried to talk with Crossroads about the deficiency reports. Kylie first began reaching out to co-founder Steve Kester and his attorney in July of last year. Kester never responded. Then, in the last three weeks since Crossroads applied for a certificate of need to open a clinic in Johnson City, we called Crossroads corporate office, its attorney, and CEO numerous times – and sent several text messages. Last week, CEO Rupert McCormac finally replied with a text that simply said :

“My on the record response at this time will need to be ‘No comment at this time. We look forward to discussing soon.'”

You can find details of other deficiencies in Crossroads’ history we uncovered in the section to the left, called “Crossroads Treatment Centers Documents.”

WEB EXTRA: Crossroads Treatment Center Documents

Copyright 2015 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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