Inside what seems like a small warehouse in the North Side is a coffee shop where dozens of people enjoy conversation, card games and a flat-screen plasma TV alongside coffee and pastries.
But what looks like a run-of-the-mill coffee shop is actually a program recently established by outpatient methadone treatment clinic Tadiso, Inc.
Marlene Burks, chief administrative officer of the Beaver Avenue clinic, explains that the coffee shop was created in December 2007 in response to client's requests for a place to socialize during their recovery process.
The clinic's clients, who are recovering from addiction to heroin and other drugs, "needed a place of their own -- a safe, welcoming place to go outside of treatment," she says. Methadone is a synthetic drug that blocks an addict's withdrawal symptoms associated with narcotics like heroin and morphine. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the methadone patient "remains physically dependent on the opioid, but is freed from the uncontrolled, compulsive and disruptive behavior seen in heroin addicts."
The coffee shop is staffed by Tadiso's own clients and funded through sales proceeds. Staffers work in two-hour shifts on a rotating basis and as payment are given gift certificates donated by local businesses at the end of each week. One client, who asked not to be identified, said she liked working at the shop because it gave her something positive to do during her free time.
"It gives me life skills -- things that I forgot before I started [treatment]," she said. "Skills to get me back into the workforce after I'm done here."
"It's cool for those of us who aren't driving," said another client, who frequents the coffee shop while waiting for the bus. "They [don't have] the staff in here, just the clients. That's what's nice. That's the incentive."
Burks explains that Tadiso focuses on a holistic approach in addition to the medical needs of clients' recovery from opioid addictions.
"That's why the coffee shop is so important, so their free time is used constructively," she says.
There is a stigma associated with methadone clinics, whose presence in a community is often opposed by neighbors. Clinicians like Burks argue that the clinics are necessary because patients must also undergo therapy in addition to taking the drug to ensure recovery.
"Methadone treatment is more than just administering a substitute for narcotics," she says. "We really try to stress the road to recovery through counseling."
Tadiso and other clinics in Pittsburgh offer individual and group counseling, medical services and post-treatment therapy.
The clinic's chief operating officer, Taru Cook, adds that methadone treatment isn't usually a recovering addict's first outpatient program.
"All of our clients have been to some outpatient programs before," he says. "Methadone isn't usually an option for someone's first attempt at recovery."