Drug treatment van to remain on Ambaum Blvd. SW at SW 134th
by Jack Mayne
That van than many noticed and wondered what it was doing parked on Ambaum Blvd. SW near SW 134th weekday mornings is a place where people with opioid drug dependence must visit six days a week, and it is likely to be there for the foreseeable future, says Molly Carney, executive director at Evergreen Treatment Services.
The van is the place where upwards of 300 people have to visit six days each week to be dosed with methadone to treat their dependence on heroin and other opioida.
The Burien location is in addition to Evergreen’s main facilities on Airport Way.
“Evergreen Treatment Services has been in existence for 40 years,” Carney said. “We are a private, non-profit organization and our main specialty is helping adults who (need) medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence.
“If someone has an issue with opioids – which can include heroin as well as prescription pills – they will call us and we will assess the extent of the problem in their lives and then they will meet with a medical provider and will get formally diagnosed a presumably having an opioid depending problem,” Carney said. “Part of their admission process is to engage with a medical provider who makes a formal medical diagnosis of them.
Highly regulated treatment
“What we do is very tightly regulated and it is also one of the most scientifically based treatments for people with addictions that is in existence,” Carney said. “There probably have been more studies on medication-assisted treatments for opioid dependence than practically any other type of substance abuse treatment. What we do is very tightly controlled and regulated from the feds, down to the state, down to the city and county. We have to be very careful about what we do and make sure that a problem exists and the medication is being used safely.”
Carney said that when people are admitted to treatment, they must come to Evergreen Treatment facilities six days a week for their medication.
“We follow them very closely to make sure they are being safely medicated and that they are engaging in the other services that we require of them, like counseling, urine drug screens and visits with a medical provider. So the treatment that we offer is really pretty intensive and, for folks who live a long way from a clinic, that can be very challenging.
“The van was originally funded through a federal grant as a way to offer our services to people who didn’t have easy access to our buildings. That is exactly why we are over in Burien at this point in time.
“We have about 300 patients at our Airport Way clinic who are traveling from the south end of King County six days a week to get their medication.”
Carney said that when Navos, a Burien organization that works with people with mental illness in King County, offered to help by locating the van on its main campus, it was seen as a way to help Evergreen keep their many patients living in Burien and nearby engaged in six-day a week required treatment.
Big need for services
“There is a tremendous need for our services right now and there are not enough treatment slots to serve them. The system is really stressed to meet the need out there. We see ourselves as being able to help with things like crime rates, expensive hospital visits and police calls as all those sort of things by getting people in treatment,” Carney said.
The van in Burien near the old Donatelli’s Market is parked the rest of the time at their headquarter on Airport Way but she hopes the location can remain at the Ambaum site for a long time. Evergreen treats patients only at its Airport Way facility, at the Ambaum van location and at a clinic in Olympia. They are in the process of opening a clinic also in the Hoquiam area and also hope to open a clinic the far south King County.
Patients are at the van each day for “literally about five minutes and then they are on their way,” she said.
They don’t dispense pills or inject the medicine, she said.
“The main medication that we use is methadone and it is a liquid that gets diluted with lemonade. They drink it in front of a dispensing nurse so, again we are very tightly controlled, we have to be. The patient comes in and has a quick assessment by the dispensing nurse about whether they are OK for their medication that day. The nurse watches them drink it. The patient has to speak so that we know that they have injected it, they throw out the little cup and then they are on their way.”
Carney said it is a common public misperception that the medicine can be removed from the premises and perhaps sold or stored up.
She said opioid addiction is “kind of weird” compared with other dependencies “because it changes a person’s body really drastically. What happens is that your body starts looking for more and more of the drug and the way it looks for that drug often does not recover when people stop using the drug. You can be dependent on alcohol but once you stop using it, your body can recover physiologically. Opioid is much more tenacious on the body. A lot of people have this problem for a very long period of time, which is why the medications are really helpful. Some people are on these medications potentially for the rest of their lives, just like a diabetic is on insulin or somebody on hypertension is on a hypertension drug.
The majority of Evergreen’s patients are publicly funded so they serve a lot of Medicaid patients, a lot of low-income patients and some with private insurance.