By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) — The state is strapped with a $2 billion budget deficit, yet it’s spending millions of dollars on chauffer driven rides to methadone clinics.

An I-Team investigation found that day in and day out, chauffeur driven livery cars make the trek to local methadone clinics with recovering heroin addicts and other drug users on board.

Most of the passengers are members of MassHealth, the state medical plan once known as Medicaid, and it is an expensive trip when there’s only one person in the passenger seat. Expensive for the taxpayers, that is, who are paying the fares.

“The word has got out now that MassHealth is pretty much a free taxi service,” said one professional driver who asked the I-Team to hide his identity.

“Why would you want to use your own gas and your own car when you can just call MassHealth and get a luxury ride to Boston in a Lincoln Town Car?” said the driver, who used to work for a livery service that contracts with the state.

“I found myself doing taxi work, basically picking up people and shuttling them down to Canal Street in a luxury vehicle,” the driver said. “I’ve done as many as five or six trips in a week and I’m just one person.”

Making the daily trips to methadone clinics is a huge cost to MassHealth, a program that is the single biggest account in the state budget.

In the last two years, more than $71 million were spent driving MassHealth members to medical appointments.

And the I-Team has learned that last year, in four regions of Massachusetts, the state spent an estimated $1.4 million just on rides to and from methadone clinics.

Methadone clinics aren’t always easily accessible to patients or to public transportation, but critics say one patient in each chauffer-driven car goes too far.

“Clearly chauffer driven transportation is not a requirement in order for somebody on MassHealth to go to a methadone clinic,” says Michael Widmer, head of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

Widmer said the $10 billion MassHealth budget accounts for one third of the state budget and is growing rapidly. “This is a perfect example where there has to be some savings,” he said.

“This is the way the system is. It just wastes money because it can,” said Barbara Anderson, who heads Citizens for Limited Taxation. “I remember when they used to send welfare mothers to the welfare office to get their welfare checks in a cab, and this is the same sort of thing.”

Terry Dougherty, the state director of Medicaid, said the state is required by federal rules to provide transportation services to MassHealth members.

To meet that requirement, the state contracts with regional transportation authorities, which then hire private livery companies to drive MassHealth members.

“I can see where people may think of it as a taxi service,” Dougherty said. “The fact of it is that since 1986 under federal law we must provide everybody their transportation to medically necessary treatments. If we can do a better job, we’ll look into that and get even more efficiencies.”

To get the free rides, Mass health members need a letter form their doctor saying it is a medical necessity.

Comments (56)
  1. DGM says:

    What the state is missing is the fact that none of these heroin addicts needed a livery driver to take them to get the dope that they were addicted to. What is wrong with these people taking the T the way the rest of us taxpayers do?

    1. wastingmytime says:

      Maybe there is another smart reporter out there to look into how much other towns are paying vendors to transport to methadone clinics. Look a little further Boston is not the only place.

  2. OMERTHEA says:

    I wish this the worst thing I’ve heard of that Mass Health has paid for.. How about thousands on plastic surgery…

  3. Marilyn says:

    I drive individuals to doctor appointiments thru Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley. There is also a service called “NEET” in the Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill area which is available thru senior centers in those areas. But you have to be a senior and there is a lack of drivers for both of these services. Wouldn’t it be cheaper for Mass Health (and the taxpayers) to purchase a couple of Vans in each County and provide the rides at less cost. Oh, sorry, of coiurse not–it’s a government program for heaven’s sake. They don’t care how they waste taxpayers money. The more money a government has the more money they want. Time to shut of the faucet.

  4. Wayne says:

    Why did the livery driver say he drove people from Lawrence to Boston? Isn’t there still a Methadone clinic on Water St. in Lawrence? Why do Merrimack Valley addicts have to go to Boston?

    1. ANONYMOUS says:


  5. madatthesystem says:

    I used to work at one of these livery services and the meth heads just take advantage of the sysyem. Some of them don’t even call to cancel their ridewhen they dont want to get there daily dose and the State still has to pay for the ride. Most of them have been getting free rides for 8-10 years, and they are still junkies…

  6. Crystal says:

    This is why people who need Mass Health can not get it. This makes me so mad.

  7. Paul says:

    the feds say that we have to provide transportation….give them a T-pass…isnt that transportation?

  8. Louray Barton says:

    Please know that these rides are not only for recovering addicts. The rides are shared with people who are going to dialysis, mental health day programs and hospital appointments. I am a recipient of Ma. Health Transportation. I go to the hospital using theses rides and often share the ride with people going to the methadone clinics. As far as a limo ride, MART (the company that oversees the transportation, allows MA Health clients to be pressed into cars like sardines! It is a VERY rare occasion when someone rides alone, usually because someone else has cancelled. Most of the cars are older and 60% of them are smelly & dirty! I have a picture of my right thigh with bruises on it because of being stuffed into a car, My thigh was pressed against the handle of the door because they put three overwieght people into the back of a very small economy car. Twice I rode in a mini van where a man brought a milk crate and chose to sit on that than sit in the very back pressed between a very large man going to Shattuck’s mental health day program and a large woman (who had her 2 YEAR OLD daughter ON HER LAP!!!) I could go on and on but I pray you’re getting the picture. The REAlL,TRUTHFUL picture. On top of all I have stated, we are also often faced with limited english speaking drivers with very bad attitudes. This IS NOT A LUXURY SOLO RIDE!

    1. Gerald Ruta says:

      You hit it right on the head it makes me laugh how I-Team hyped this story up without the true facts. I get a medical ride to a clinic like you and it isn’t in a luxury automobile. Like any program there will be instances of fraud, deceit, and people taking advantage. With most federal and/or state programs this is the reality. Recovering addicts should be used as examples of turning their lives around.

      1. Laura says:

        they are not recovering if they are using methadone! They are still addicts!

    2. Tom says:

      Addicts don’t recover, they just milk the system for all freebies they can get. Then have the nerve to complain about it. While honest taxpaying citizens get the shaft.

      1. Missy says:

        My husband goes to a clinic in a different State. First thing, there’s nothing free here! He had to pay over 300 dollars to get in and then pay 90 dollars a week thereafter. We don’t get Medicaid handed to us like candy! Also you don’t know anyones story behind why they go there. My husband got hit by a car, was in a wheelchair for 6 months and got addicted to painkillers. Oh, but the doctors are never to blame for that!!!!! He then started taking to many, which he shouldn’t have, then I woke up to him one morning and he had overdosed. He was in the hospital for 4 days on a breathing machine. He then went to the Methadone Clinic. He is now trying to get out and they keep telling him to wait. They just want the money. I also don’t appreciate meth heads or junkies being used to describe everyone. Each person has their own story and to be honest most of them probably ended up there because of a STUPID Doctor that gave them a bunch of pain medicine and then cut them off without weaning them down!!!!!!!! And who cares about the rides, the real problem is actually helping these people get off of Methadone!!

  9. Foster Gates says:

    I’ve seen these so called “luxury vans,” and I don’t see anything luxurious about them. If federal law states transportation must be provided, then it must be provided. Many clients on methadone would not be able to stay clean if they had no way to get their dose. I’m not saying there aren’t those who abuse the clinic, of course there are. However, for my daughter’s birthmom, the clinic has been a lifesaver. Four years clean! I had the same attitude as many, but now that I’ve seen it work, I feel much differently about the whole thing.

    1. response says:

      They are not clean if theyre still on methadone

  10. steve says:

    If transportation must be provided, let it be in an economy vehicle that goes to and from the closest T stop once an hour

  11. hackwannabe says:

    here’s an idea, how about people who get welfare and a car, or even have MA health get a car, and have the people who are on welfare drive them there! They are already getting money, now we get something back!

  12. Sue says:

    Why do we have to provide taxi’s per person? Cant a bus be arranged that would pick people up and take them to get their dosing? And addicts who are on the program for all this time…I thought the program was designed to get them off of the meds.?
    It really is the system that is messed up not the addict. It is time to revamp programs such as these, that is actually what the problem is. another government run handout which costs us, the taxpayers too much.. WAKE UP BEACON HILL

  13. Stephen says:

    I’m curious if heroine addicts can get taxi service to their treatment per Dr. note Can an alcoholic get taxi service to an AA mtg if the Dr prescribes it as treatment for his/her alcoholism? Just wondering.

    1. shotime says:

      My feeling is that a bus or commuter rail pass should be a sufficient form of transportation and yes, that should include people that need transportation to AA meetings, too. Nix the limos… regardless of what shape the vehicles are in.

    2. Scott says:

      Can a Gambler addict get a free plane fare to Vegas?

      1. response says:



    What people dont know as well as this information prior to it being exposed is the fact a lot , maybe 90 % of the people I have transported alone, have very nice cars that they own, right in their driveways ! I HAVE SEE MERCEDES BENZ PARKED IN DRIVEWAYS IN LAWRENCE , MASS. WHY USE YOUR OWN CAR AND GAS WHEN THE WORD IS, JJUST CALL MASS HEALTH AND TELL THEM YOU HAVE NO WAY TO GET THERE AND GET A FREE RIDE???? I am one of many drivers transporting people that are not drugs addicts to appointments in Boston who are perfectly capable of using their own cars and driving themselves there. Lawrence is just one place that tries AND SUCCEEDS IN BEATING THE SYSTEM. THERE ARE MANY MORE !

  15. Jules says:

    Would rather pay for the ride to the methadone clinic than to have to pay for the prison sentence that most of the addicts will get while using-
    give people a chance- no one sets out to become a junkie
    dont judge someone unless youve walked a mile in their shoes!
    We should be helping people instead of condeming them.

    1. gracie says:

      stop babying these people! are they stopping to pick up their lottery tickets and cigarettes along the way? probably paid for with their food stamps card. what ever happened to personal responsibility, why should i be forced to pick up the tab for these losers? why do they keep getting something for nothing, let them do community service at least. it would do them good!

      1. Laura says:

        so true!

      2. Zenith15 says:

        another typical hate filled remark by someone who obviously knows very little about addiction and makes judgements based on rumors and innuendo.

        I am a 46 year old married mother of 3. I live in the suburbs, drive a late model car, own my own home, work full time and pay all my own bills myself. I have a college degree, do a great deal of volunteer work in the community, attend church, etc. I am also a methadone patient. Methadone saved my life and returned me to being a functional, productive citizen. I pay all my own clinic fees and always have. I am not an exception, either–there are thousands of MMT patients just like me–professional people, college students, suburban homemakers, business owners, etc. You may live next door to one right now and you would never know it.

      3. Missy says:

        Wow! I don’t know where you all live, but nothing is free here! Most of you people know nothing about the Methadone Clinic. There are rules and regulations to follow. You don’t just go in and pick up medicine and go on your Mary way! Like I said before, everyone has a story so don’t be so quick to judge! You think these people set out to want this as their life? I’m sure they didn’t! Why aren’t any Doctors to blame? They can prescribe all the medicines and then when your addicted just write you off as a “junkie” ! It makes me sick!!!! The driver who started this thing probably takes the medicine too! He probably got fired for doing something wrong and wanted to lash back! Hints the ” former ” employee that doesn’t want to be revealed. Please!!!! No one gets a free ride here. My job doesn’t provide medical coverage and I can’t get it through the government unless I’m pregnant. What kind of message does that send to people!?!? So any way you look at it, the system is messed up everywhere…… Wake up people, tax dollars are going to be misused everywhere!

    2. iteam exclusive says:

      thank you, you are totally right. what they dont tell you is how much money and lives methadone clinics save every year! people still using herion or oxys or whatever usually end up in jail or the er. clinics help people get back on their feet, back to a normal life, back to work and back to paying taxes just like everyone else!! its their tax $ too!! the money saved through all that far exceeds these free rides, yes there maybe people who take advantage of these rides but thats like anything else in this state. noone grows up saying i want to be drug addict so before all you judge these people get your facts straight.

  16. response says:

    So, the state cannot provide the needed funds for transportation to regional school systems but it can fund transportation for drug addicts?
    If these people have appointments, let them drive themselves like the rest of have to.
    This state is pathetic…

  17. GEORGE says:


  18. SloppyJoe says:

    get rid of them and the free cars that are given to state workers

  19. Terri says:

    If you read this story you will see that it says, out of 71 million in the last two years. That is about 35.5 million a year. The methadone clinics only used 1.4 million last year, the other 34 million was spent on “regular people” going to regular appointments. I know what most people think of “These People” (the drug addicts) as just a bunch of junkies but a huge number of them are sick or disabled and deserve the ride. They are not responsible for how many people are in the cab. That is between the cab company and Mass. Health. They already put the programs as far away from the normal population as possible. Now you don’t want to make rides available to a sick or disabled person, because of the medical facility they go to. They have to get a note from their doctor to get the ride just like every one else. The methadone clinic is a medical facility just like any other clinic. Maybe the ride should only be given to be given to sick and disabled people who have diabetes or cancer. Only for the grace of God walk you.

  20. Kris says:

    This system does sounds wasteful; on the other hand, it has to be safer than having people with drug problems drive themselves, and it’s also obviously better for public safety to have the addicts on methadone rather than using heroin. It’s also cheaper than prison, which is where a lot of the addicts would end up were it not for the methadone clinics.

  21. Laura says:

    These people are absolute low lifes! Seriously.. How can we pay for this? Methadone is absolutely NOT a medical necessity. If these people would just get clean. Methadone is still a drug, which we are also paying for, so these people are still using. They should do an investigation on how much it costs to give these losers methadone probably more countless millions. I know someone that has been going to the methadone clinic for almost 10 years! Why is there no cut-off? We are allowing people to continue using drugs legally and for free on the taxpayers dime for as long as they want with a free fancy ride no less. These people go get their dose and go home and go to bed, because 90% of them are on welfare. Go get a real job!

    1. Zenith15 says:

      Again, you are sadly mistaken with your “facts”. The fact is, the majority of methadone clinics in the USA are private pay clinics, with the patients paying the FULL cost out of their own pockets–usually around $300-$400 per month.

      Methadone is as much a medical necessity as are anti depressants for depressed people, anti psychotics for those with schizophrenia, and lithium for bipolar disorder. Opioid addiction causes permanent changes in the brain chemistry. Methadone replaces the missing chemicals without causing any high or euphoria in stable patients–that is why it is used instead of other drugs. Physical dependence on a medication is not the same thing as addiction to illicit drugs.

      Saying “if these people would just get clean” shows just how little you know about addiction and the brain. We are learning now that addiction truly is a brain disease–that many opioid addicts had a deficiency in natural opiates (endorpins) long before they began abusing drugs, and that this deficiency made them especially vulnerable to opiate abuse. Just “getting clean” does not repair the damage to the brain chemistry, any more than ceasing to consume excess sweets will “cure” a diabetic, or ceasing to smoke will “cure” a lung cancer patient.

  22. lefty liberal says:

    The last statement of the report is incorrect as far as these agencies offering financial incentives to transport more than one occupant. MAART implemented a shared ride program this summer and it resulted in 3 or more clients being transported at the same time, with not much more of a far than just driving the one client. It was an absolute nightmare as many of these folks believed they deserved to ride alone, be picked up at exactly the time they wanted (instead of say a half hour window), yet I believe MAART still collected the full compensation on each of the clients from MassHealth. In addition, these agencies have a heavily used complaint system, to which these “patients” can submit the wildest, unsubstantiated claims. We spend more time responding to those than driving! My husband received a call today for a client who requested A. to ride alone B. smoke-free car C. sedan, not van D. leather seats! We declined the trip needless to say.

    1. bystander says:

      put some camera’s in your vehicles
      theres camera’s all over the T system

  23. bystander says:

    they never get off methodone because the clinics are a business
    once your on the stuff, clinics give you a heavy dose
    if you want to get off, lowering the dose makes you sick

    they go to the clinics till they die or go to jail

    1. zenith15 says:

      This is blatantly false. Cllinics do not stand to gain ANYTHING by putting patients on high doses or keeping them in treatment if they want to leave. Most clinics have long wait lists and even those that do not can replace a departing patient instantly with a new one, as opioid addiction is so prevalent. They do not lose any money if someone leaves treatment.

      The reason patients are not pushed and urged to leave treatment is because the relapse rate for those leaving treatment is 90% within the first year. The risks of relapse are enormous. However, for those who remain IN treatment, the success rate is about 65%–much higher than with any other form of treatment available, by far, according to the National Institutes of Health, NIDA, the World Health Organization, and the White House ONDCP.

    2. Missy says:

      Well, that’s a lie!!!! You don’t get a heavy dose……. They monitor you very well when you first go in and stop you at a dose when your not sick anymore. And you have to follow rules and start going down usually after a year. Some cases are longer, depending on the drug. This disease is the same as alcoholism. You people make me sick!! I wonder what you would do if you got into an accident and had to be put on pain meds for about 6 months everyday, because that’s all it takes, and then have it taken away one day. Then after day 1 you start feeling flu like symptoms, then your body feels so bad you don’t even want to get out of the bed, then you can’t sleep at night because of sweating and being cold at the same time. Methadone helps people who want to get better to get off of everything. Just like an alcoholic would need to be in rehab. I wouldn’t wish an addiction on anyone. You think it happens to people who go buy it off the streets. It can happen to a soccer Mom who had major surgery and needed medicine so she could do daily activities with her children. Don’t judge!!! God just might let it happen to you and then you’ll bite your tongue!!!!!!

  24. sickandtired2 says:

    Hey, the methodone clinics only take up $1.4M. People should be angrier at the illegal immagrants who gets the “medical” rides!! I drive for a limo company and they ARE getting rides in the SAME cars that are used for airport and private paid luxury transportation!! I disagree with the one who said they are smelly cars. NOT TRUE!! We have to drive in and out of Boston and if a call comes in from a clinic or hospital, then guess what?, we pick them up! I work for tips, and I lose money on these calls big time. The majority of the people, around 90% don’t even speak English!! No that’s a news story. I’ve picked up people who have gone into Boston for dental appointment!! Give me a break! I’ve had to drive my child in and out of Boston for medical care, pay gas, pay parking, and out of my own pocket. I WORK my whole life and can’t get this kind of luxury.
    The T is fine!! I’ve done it. This service should be for people with terminal illnesses only. Ok, then it’s medically neccessary, but that’s it!!
    Some of us are trying to make a living here and pay our taxes!!!!!!!

    1. Missy says:

      If you all hate it so much, GET A DIFFERENT JOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Shut up about it. Atleast you have a job. If it wasn’t for ” those people” you wouldn’t!!!!!! I get so tired of having to hear about paying taxes. We all do and will forever! I could sit on here and complain about how all the old people took our retirement away!! Thanks for that!!!!!! What good is it going to do? Nothing, so keep doing your job and go boohoo to someone else… Please……

  25. HadEnough says:

    If your still in the system after many years your on your way to being a lifetime moocher Methodone users are still addicts How long how much are we going to spend schools need the money not crybaby about pay now or they will go into crime they are in it now

  26. Zenith15 says:

    Those who claim methadone patients are “still using”, “not clean”, etc are mistaken. Methadone does not cause any kind of a high or euphoria in stable patients–that is why it is used. Methadone does not replace the drug of abuse as people imagine, but rather, it replaces a missing chemical in the opioid addict’s brain chemistry called endorphins. These are our natural opiates, and when we abuse opioid drugs, such as heroin, morphine, vicodin, etc it causes the brain to cease producing the natural opiates. Once the patient becomes abstinent, they experience severe, crippling depression, inability to feel pleasure, physical exhaustion, extreme irritability and anxiety. In many, this affliction is permanent–the damage to the brain chemistry may be irreversible in some long term addicts. Methadone replaces the missing endorphins, without causing a high, thereby allowing the addict to feel normal and to function normally.

    While they do remain physically dependent on methadone, this is NOT the same as being addicted to it. Addiction involves a set of behaviors in addition to physicla dependence, such as continued use despite harm, increasing the dosage themselves, lying and manipulating to get more, etc etc–behaviors that are not present in stabilized methadone patients. Taking a prescribed medication to stabilize your brain chemistry–a medication that improves your ability to function and benefits your life and health, is very different from abusing street drugs that cause havoc and chaos in your life, render you unable to function, and destroy your health.

  27. shotime says:

    Methadone is not just a drug for addicts… I have a brother-in-law that takes methadone to treat severe chronic back pain. People hear the word Methadone and always think the absolute worst. Personally, I would rather see addicts on clinics than still on the streets doing “God Knows What” to support their opiate habit. I don’t believe someone wakes up one day and decides they want to be an addict, and anyone that honestly believes this needs to get out of their little world of “make-believe”. It’s so sad how judgmental people really are.

  28. John says:

    i been on methadone for 2 years, and my life has changed so much since being on the clinic.I have gained my familys trust back,i have a job,my friends want me around now,i’m not out there pulling scams and breaking the law., some people still mess around on the clinic but not everyone. if you never had someone close to u with a addiction problem you just don’t understand.You shouldn’t judge someone for being on a methadone clinic trying to turn there life around.

  29. Inf says:

    My CHILD has to live two miles away to get BUS PASS for school and we’re giving addicts limo rides? Seriously?

    Score yet another point for the takers in this world.

    1. Missy says:

      Get a car!!!!! And where did it go from car to van to limo? Do you all even know what your talking about!!!!

  30. Inf says:

    I have no beef with people getting drug treament — I’m all for it. But I don’t think limo rides should be allowed — and certainly not when the car is taking ONE person at a time. Take the T, the bus, a bike, your feet or a friend or family member. I’m sorry you became an addict and I applaud your efforts to get straight, but such waste in an economy where schoolkids have no librarians, not enough books, no paper, broken computers, fewer social workers and guidance counsellors and school nurses … do your part and get yourself where you need to be without putting out your hand for a free service that is intended to help the physically unable not the mildly inconvenienced.

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