In September of 2016 a man was driving west on I-90 after receiving a dose of methadone from a clinic in downtown Cleveland. He hit and killed a state trooper doing speed patrol. Last month, that man was found not guilty on charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and driving under the influence.
Medical experts say opioid addiction is the single biggest health crisis we’re facing right now in Ohio. Hundreds of people in Cuyahoga County seek methadone treatment every day.
Methadone treatment for opioid addiction has been available since 1972. Those in the medical field have studied it and understand it well, but it is widely misunderstood by the general public.
Cuyahoga County has two public methadone treatment centers and they’re both in downtown Cleveland. Cleveland Treatment Center has 600 clients. 850 people visit Community Action Against Addiction for treatment. Several surrounding counties including Lake, Geauga and Lorain have no methadone treatment facilities. People from those areas generally drive into Cleveland.
That’s what Joshua Gaspar did on the morning of September 15, 2016.
Gaspar’s attorney Jon Sinn says a jury made the right decision when finding Gaspar not guilty of aggravated vehicular homicide and driving under the influence in the tragic death of State Trooper Kenneth Velez. Velez was performing a speed check on the side of I-90 West near McKinley Avenue that morning.
“A lot of people thought Josh was impaired, they thought he was high,” Sinn told Channel 3.
Dr. Ted Parran, Co-Medical Director at Rosary Hall, Saint Vincent Charity Medical Center, says methadone is one of three medically-assisted treatments that increases an addict’s chance of long-term sobriety by 50 percent. The other two are the opioid Suboxone and the opioid blocker Naltrexone.
Many people visit the methadone clinics seven days a week, receiving one dose each day. But over time they can earn the right for take-home doses. A doctor will prescribe them several days' worth of drugs to ingest at home.
“If they’re on a stable dose, if they’re not using other drugs on top of it, and if that dose has been stable for several weeks, then they are no longer impaired by the methadone,” said Dr. Parran.
Dr. Parran says there is a slight risk of impairment if someone on methadone skips the clinic for three days or more then goes back for a dose. A patient might also feel heavier effects the first time a doctor increases their dose.
Methadone has a slower release compared to other opioids like OxyContin and heroin. It relieves physical withdrawal, but addicts don’t get high from an appropriate dose.
“They no longer have intoxication, they no longer have impaired judgement and they no longer have the sedative effects,” said Dr. Parran of addicts on methadone.
Someone on a stable dose of methadone is allowed to operate heavy machinery and drive. Doctors suggest being on methadone treatment for two years before weaning off of it, but it’s a long road to recovery. About 15 percent of those on methadone continue to take it for life.