March 7 (Bloomberg) -- Maryland state regulators are investigating an addiction-treatment clinic owned by Bain Capital Partners LLC after the methadone-related death of a Baltimore man.
The probe is focused on the Pine Heights Treatment Center in Baltimore, one of dozens of clinics operated by Bain’s CRC Health Corp., the largest methadone-treatment provider in the U.S. It was triggered by a complaint from the public, said Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for the state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. She declined to comment on the investigation’s details.
The complaint alleges that Warren Lumpkin, 34, a forklift operator, died on Jan. 4 after ingesting methadone that was given to him by a CRC patient, according to a copy obtained by Bloomberg News. An autopsy found that “methadone intoxication” contributed to his death, records show.
Lumpkin’s ex-wife, Sabrina M. Lumpkin, who filed the complaint, said in it that he wasn’t a patient at the CRC clinic. He had a friend who was, and that friend gave half a dose of methadone from the clinic to Lumpkin, according to the complaint.
“I have contacted many city agencies to see why this had been able to happen and why no one is responsible for his death,” Sabrina Lumpkin wrote in the complaint. “So I am hoping that you can help me or look into this matter in hope that this does not happen to someone else’s loved one.”
CRC declined to comment on Lumpkin’s death, citing patient privacy rules, said Kristen Hayes, a spokeswoman for the Cupertino, California-based company. She said the company is committed to preventing “diversion” of methadone. CRC clinics won’t send methadone home with any patient who’s suspected of misusing it, she said.
“We support prosecution of individuals who illegally traffic and redistribute their medication,” Hayes said in an e-mail. Alex Stanton, a spokesman for Boston-based Bain Capital, didn’t respond to a request for comment yesterday.
CRC operated 57 clinics in 15 states last year. In methadone maintenance treatment, which has been used for decades to help addicts abate withdrawal symptoms from heroin or other opiates, patients take a daily dose of the synthetic narcotic. Initially, dosing takes place at a clinic, under a nurse’s supervision. In time, patients qualify for carryout doses under federal and state rules that normally require them to attend counseling and test clean for illegal drugs.
Bloomberg News reported last month that investigators in Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia have linked diverted methadone that turned up in illegal street sales or deaths to carryout doses that CRC clinics distributed to patients. Former CRC employees said in the article that their caseloads were sometimes so high they didn’t have time to provide adequate counseling or check on patients.
Philip Herschman, CRC’s chief clinical officer, called the article “misleading and biased” and said it didn’t help efforts to provide care to millions of Americans.
Take-home dosing is highly regulated and CRC meets rigid rules in deciding which patients get carryout doses, Herschman said. Safeguards include lockboxes and spot-checks, in which patients are called back to clinics to account for their take-home bottles, he said. Most methadone overdose deaths stem from physicians’ prescribing the drug as a painkiller, not from its use in addiction treatment, he said.
In Baltimore, on the day after her ex-husband’s funeral, Sabrina M. Lumpkin said she began calling public officials, trying to figure out how he got the methadone that the state medical examiner says contributed to his death.
She says she asked the state to investigate after contacting CRC’s Pine Heights clinic.
“Somebody in your clinic is giving out their methadone,” she said she told a clinic staffer. “They told me it was a police matter and there’s nothing they could do.”
Lumpkin died at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. His cause of death was hardening of the arteries and methadone intoxication, according to a death certificate signed by Ling Li, the assistant medical examiner who conducted his autopsy. Li left the manner of death -- be it accident, homicide, suicide or natural causes -- as undetermined. An investigation by the state medical examiner’s office is under way, she said.
At the hospital on Jan. 4, Lumpkin’s friend -- the CRC patient -- told a doctor that she had given half her methadone dose to Lumpkin the night before, according to Sabrina Lumpkin’s complaint and to interviews with Lumpkin’s parents, Kathy and James S. Lumpkin.
CRC operates three clinics in Maryland with almost 1,300 patients, about half of them on Medicaid, the public health program for the poor, said Henry, the state spokeswoman.
Maryland’s drug-abuse agency regulates 60 methadone clinics with about 20,000 patients. It’s rare for the agency to investigate a clinic in response to a public complaint, Henry said.
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