By Ella Nilsen

Sentinel Staff

April 12, 2008, was a sunny and beautiful Saturday, and Jenna A. Lydon decided to go for a jog.

Lydon, an athletic 24-year-old graduate student at Antioch University New England, was living in Keene and studying to become a teacher. As she left her apartment at about noon and started running down North Lincoln Street, she noticed a red car drifting off the road and heading in her direction. She moved farther off the road to get out of the way.

The car kept coming.

Lydon tried to dodge the vehicle, but was blocked by a fence.

“There was nowhere to go,” she said in a recent interview. “I remember feeling terrified because I knew there was no place to go; I was already off the road.”

Seconds later, the car plowed into her body.

She woke up in the emergency room at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene to a nurse saying they needed to med-flight her to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

The crash, detailed in court and Keene police records, was catastrophic. The impact of the car literally knocked Lydon out of her shoes and onto the car’s hood, shattering her skull, before thrusting her up and over the chain link fence surrounding Woodland Cemetery. The fence tines ripped deep through her skin before she landed on the other side.

At Dartmouth-Hitchcock, surgeons and doctors rushed to tend to her injuries, which included multiple facial fractures, fractured ribs, a broken leg, a damaged knee and deep lacerations across her back, hip and thigh.

It took five surgeries and months of rehab and physical therapy to deal with Lydon's most serious injuries; others will never fully heal.

The driver of the car, then-19-year-old Addison Southwick of Swanzey, had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Southwick — crying at the scene — told police he never saw Lydon. He also told them he was a patient at the Keene Metro Treatment Center in Swanzey, where he was taking methadone to treat his heroin addiction. The methadone, he said, made him drowsy.

Methadone in New Hampshire

Methadone is one way health officials and treatment providers are fighting an opioid drug problem Gov. Maggie Hassan has called an epidemic.

Opioids are synthetic drugs that mimic morphine, a naturally occurring opiate found in poppies.

Approximately 115,000 to 120,000 people — or about 9 percent of the state's population — misuse drugs, including opioids, according to a February report from the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.

Drug users are also seeking treatment; in the past decade, the number of people admitted to state-funded treatment programs for heroin in New Hampshire rose 90 percent and 500 percent for prescription drugs, statistics show.

Still, addicts in the Granite State who want to get clean have few places to turn.

Treatment options are scarce, wait lists long, and many treatment providers say their shortened programs don't offer enough time to treat patients successfully.

In the past few decades, methadone clinics have stepped in to fill that gap. Eleven clinics in New Hampshire dispense methadone — a strong opioid that works to temper addicts’ cravings, stop withdrawal symptoms and allow them to function throughout the day.

Methadone has proven a controversial treatment option. When taken correctly, the drug doesn't get users high, and allows them to live normal, productive lives, proponents and health officials say.

But opponents argue users are simply trading one drug for another.

A far-from-stellar track record

In New Hampshire, for-profit treatment companies run all 11 clinics. One of these is a company called Colonial Management Group, LP, based in Orlando, Fla.

Colonial is the second-largest for-profit methadone treatment company in the United States, with 65 clinics spread across the nation. Its Keene Metro Treatment Center is at 1076 West Swanzey Road in Swanzey.

That clinic serves about 220 patients, according to its program director, Carrie Lemay, who gave the statistics at a recent community forum on heroin at Keene High School.

Manchester-based medical malpractice lawyer Holly Haines described Colonial as “a McDonald's for methadone.”

Haines works at Abramson, Brown & Dugan, which has offices in Keene. She and her partner Kevin Dugan brought two cases against Colonial Management Group in New Hampshire: one from Lydon in October 2010 and one from another woman in September 2012.

Haines and Dugan alleged clinic staff in Swanzey "merely took Addison Southwick's money and gave him steadily increasing doses of methadone," even though urine screens showed he was continuing to use illicit drugs.

Haines and Dugan say a confidentiality agreement bars them from discussing the resolution of Lydon's case.

Their lawsuit is not unique. Over the years, Colonial clinics across the country have racked up multiple suits for alleged medical malpractice, as well as pages of violations from health inspectors in other states.

Interviews with health officials, as well as health inspectors' records, show multiple Colonial Management Group clinics loaded counselors and nurses with high numbers of patients, raised patients’ methadone doses above what is federally recommended, and continued to dose clients who consistently tested positive for other drugs, months after they started treatment.

In some states, these clinics function with little oversight.

In New Hampshire, the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services rarely conducts independent investigations of methadone clinics, according to bureau Director Joseph P. Harding. In a recent interview, Harding said he was not aware of the in-state lawsuits against the company's clinics in Swanzey and in Concord.

Some in local and state law enforcement say they worry about crashes that can occur when patients on high doses of methadone or methadone mixed with other drugs fall asleep at the wheel.

Putting profits over patients?

Some health officials worry that for-profit treatment companies put profits ahead of their clients' well-being. Colonial and other companies are owned by private investment firms such as Warwick Group, Inc. and Bain Capital.

Records show some of the clinics Colonial runs are cash-only operations, while others take federal tax dollars supporting patients on Medicaid.

During a months-long Sentinel investigation into the company and its practices, Colonial Management Group has remained silent. The company's corporate staff did not return multiple phone calls and emails requesting comment. Lemay, Keene Metro's program director, said she could not talk to a Sentinel reporter for this story.

"Colonial has a program that looks great on paper," said Dugan, referring to its claims to help recovering addicts.

"In practice, it's much, much different."

Photos of the 2008 accident scene in this story are courtesy of the Keene Police Department.