Northern Lakes Clinic to open

With a backdrop of wire sculptures encouraging clients to "Hope, Dream, Laugh, Believe," the intake desk at Northern Lakes Clinic is ready for business.

With a backdrop of wire sculptures encouraging clients to "Hope, Dream, Laugh, Believe," the intake desk at Northern Lakes Clinic is ready for business.

Scheduled to open June 5, the clinic will offer a range of treatments for individuals with addictions who are 18 years old and older.

Lois Cochrane Schlutter, PhD., licensed clinical psychologist with a practice in the Twin Cities, said she established Northern Lakes Clinic to respond to the lack of specialized treatment she sees in northern Minnesota.

"I'm coming in thinking we can bring some tools that are needed," she said.

"Our goal is to help people recover," said Karla Weber, program director for the clinic.


The clinic will provide traditional outpatient programs for individuals with addictions, as well as methadone maintenance programs for individuals with additions to opiates, such as heroin, morphine and prescription pain killers. No methadone clinics exist in Minnesota west of Duluth and north of St. Cloud, Schlutter said.

Methadone is a synthetic narcotic used for more than 30 years to treat drug withdrawal and dependence. It reduces the cravings associated with opiate use and blocks the high. It does not provide the euphoric rush. Consequently, methadone patients do not experience extreme highs and lows.

Because methadone is a controlled substance, Schlutter emphasized the high levels of security the clinic has set up. Although the clinic will store the methadone in a bank vault, Schlutter said she has installed two levels more of security than when the building at 301 America Ave. N.W. was occupied by the Headwaters Federal Credit Union.

"This is more regulated than any other form of human services," she said of the clinic.

Clients will carry a clinic-issued photo ID, "so we don't dose the wrong person," Schlutter said.

Before proceeding to the dosing window of the licensed pharmacy, the clients will undergo random urine testing. The water in the toilet bowls is dyed a bright blue to prevent clients from cheating on the urine test by diluting the sample.

"We want to test what they produce, not what is in the plumbing system," Schlutter said.

For the same reason, the sinks for clients to was their hands after producing the urine sample are in the hallway outside the men's and women's restrooms.


The clients move on to the pharmacy window to receive their liquid methadone. They must swallow it and wash it down with a cup of water while the dispensing nurse watches.

"It's so regulated we have to account for every drop in the tubing," Schlutter said.

The pharmacy is equipped with motion detectors, infrared sensors and coded key pads to open the vault where the methadone is stored. Only the nurse and pharmacist have the code.

"I own the place, and I don't have it," Schlutter said.

She added that the staff members personal key codes only allow them to enter parts of the clinic where they need to be.

The clinic also has interview and counseling rooms and a physical examination room.

Schlutter said Northern Lakes Clinic will be authorized to serve up to 600 clients in the methadone maintenance program, which includes psychological counseling, group therapy and exercise, in addition to the medicine. The clinic can also serve up to 60 at a time in the standard six-month evening program. When fully staffed within a year, the clinic will employ 16-20 professionals.

She said methadone maintenance programs have 84 percent success rates in controlling addictions. Some benefits show up within a few weeks, so much so that the clients could need a new ID photo because their appearances change so much. More sustained changes develop over about 18 months, Schlutter said. Methadone itself can be addictive, and some people need to take it for several years, she said, while some continue in the program for their entire lives.


Schlutter said she hopes to add to the sole Narcotics Anonymous chapter in the Bemidji area a methadone-tolerant NA chapter. She said NA can complement methadone treatment. She said she favors abstinence, but realistically only about 5 percent of clients remain abstinent for a year.

"It's not a place that everybody can be yet," she said.

Schlutter said she will contract with Beltrami County and work with Bemidji State University in research areas.

Northern Lakes Clinic has been inspected by the Council of Accredited Rehabilitation Facilities and already has a waiting list of clients.

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