ITHACA, N.Y. — Opioid treatment options are expanding locally. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services is adding an expanded opioid treatment program to its outpatient center that will provide withdrawal services and dispense daily medication, including methadone.

The lobby of CARS on State Street was packed Wednesday as staff and community members celebrated the addition of services with a ribbon-cutting. The new Opioid Treatment Program, expected to start soon, will offer individual and group counseling sessions, and dispense daily treatment medications including Suboxone and methadone. While suboxone can be found locally, it will be the only place in Tompkins County people will be able to get methadone treatment.

Eleni Murdough, program director at CARS, speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Oct. 16 at CARS. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
Eleni Murdough, program director at CARS, speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Oct. 16 at CARS. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Eleni Murdough, program director at CARS, said methadone and buprenorphine – the generic name for Suboxone – are associated with better treatment outcomes and quality of life, and overall survival rates. She said many people must drive out of town every day or multiple times per week to receive these medications.

Murdough said in 2017, more than 70,000 people died from a drug overdose — enough people to fill a football stadium. In the same year, there were 76 overdoses in Tompkins County and about 20 were fatal.

“That’s why we’re here today,” Murdough said. “With the opening of this program, we can further our efforts to prevent fatal and non-fatal overdoses and we can provide people with additional treatment options which means more recovery and more saved lives.”

• Related: Overdoses, treatment options in Tompkins put in spotlight during community event

Many communities across the U.S. are struggling with a national opioid crisis. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 130 people in the U.S. die from opioid overdose — including heroin, prescription pain relievers and synthetic opioids like fentanyl — every day.

Locally, there have been 10 drug-related deaths as of June 30, according to data from the Tompkins County Medical Examiner. In 2018, there were 18 deaths, a slight decrease from 22 recorded in 2017. According to the New York State Department of Health, about 300 people in Tompkins County were admitted for OASAS-certified treatment programs in 2018.

Methadone has long been used to treat opioid use, and many studies over the years have found it to be an effective way to reduce opioid use. Dr. Heather MacAdam, who works at CARS, said she is excited to bring these treatment options to Ithaca. She said methadone is well studied and has been shown to decrease death rates fivefold, reduce the transmission of infectious disease, and has also been found to decrease crime.

Judge John Rowley. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
Judge John Rowley. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Judge John Rowley, who oversees Family Drug Treatment Court, said substance abuse disorders are a reason he sees many people in the court system. He said methadone is a treatment that can allow people to live a normal life. Currently, to get methadone treatment, some people have to take the two-hour daily round trip to Syracuse.

“There’s been a lot of people for a long time doing that,” Rowley said. “And of course, it completely disrupts their life.”

Methadone has long been identified as a gap in local services, but strict regulations make it difficult for organizations to dispense it.

In the beginning, CARS will cap dispensing to 50 people but expect to increase that number over time. CARS is adding several staff members for the Opioid Treatment Program, including nurses and counselors. To be approved for methadone treatment, people will have to undergo a three-day evaluation with nurses and counselors. After that, they can come in six days a week for methadone treatment, with one take-home dose for Sunday.

For more information, visit www.carsny.org or call 607-273-5500.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.