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ND legislators set final budget at $13.6 billion, end session

Corrected -- State's first methadone treatment begins operations

BISMARCK—Heartview Foundation in Bismarck will begin offering methadone to recovering opiate addicts in October, likely becoming the first provider in the state to do so.

"Medication-assisted treatment has much better outcomes than abstinence-only treatments," Kurt Snyder, executive director of the organization, said.

Sixty percent of recovering addicts are drug-free after a year with the help of medicine, Snyder said. Only 10 percent succeed without it.

North Dakota and Wyoming are the only states without methadone treatment programs.

The new program is part of a larger effort being made by law enforcement and health care providers to help addicts and stop the influx of opiates into the community.

At a press conference Tuesday, officials announced that opiate use has increased in Bismarck. People of all ages and backgrounds are using heroin and fentanyl, a potent opiate often mixed with heroin to make it stronger.

In the past few weeks, police said they received three reports of suspected overdoses, including one death.

Snynder said the new methadone program will be regulated by the federal government. The drug will be one of three offered by Heartview.

When used in conjunction with counseling, drug testing and mental health treatment, methadone can help addicts live normal lives, Snyder said. If prescribed, people would get a daily dose from the center.

The facility already prescribes naltrexone and buprenorphine, two drugs that help addicts avoid relapse. Both have drawbacks: One only works for people who have gone through complete withdrawal. The other does not work for some long-term users.

Bismarck Police Det. Jerry Stein attributed the increase in heroin and fentanyl usage to the dropping price of the drugs in the area.

For years, the cost of heroin was prohibitively high for most people, Stein said. One-tenth of a gram, known as a point, cost $100. In most big cities, a point costs $10 to $20.

Recently, the price dropped to $40 to $60 a point in Bismarck, Stein said. By mixing heroin with fentanyl, dealers are able to lower prices further.

As the cost of prescription pills has risen, many opiate users have turned to heroin, Stein said.

Heroin is trafficked into Bismarck from bigger cities, such as Chicago and Minneapolis. Some dealers may order fentanyl online and pay for it in anonymous bitcoins.

Police are targeting dealers and users in an approach Stein compares to cutting down a tree by pulling leaves and sawing off branches.

Stein said he encourages patrol officers to catch addicts who may commit small crimes to feed their habits, with the hope of getting them into treatment. Meanwhile, he works on building larger cases against dealers.

Patrol officers are being trained on naloxone, known as Narcan, a drug that temporarily reverses an opioid overdose. It works by blocking the effects of opioids on a person and buys them time to get to a hospital.

Recently, all pharmacies in North Dakota have been authorized to prescribe naloxone. The goal is to increase access to the drug for users, their families and friends or any one in the position to assist in the event of an overdose.

A small amount of training is required for any pharmacist looking to prescribe the antidote.

Pharmacists at Thrifty White Pharmacy in Bismarck and Mandan are in training to start prescribing it.

"We're building up the number of pharmacists that are able to prescribe it," said Mark Hardy, executive director of the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy.

"It's a fairly new initiative," said Hardy, adding that, as the public becomes more aware of naloxone, he thinks they'll ask their pharmacists to offer it.

Some people have questioned whether naloxone enables addicts to push the limits.

But Dr. Melissa Henke, medical director at Heartview, said it will not encourage that kind of behavior. The drug forces people into immediate and very uncomfortable withdrawal, often making them puke or lash out.

"We can handle all that. They're alive," Henke said.

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