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Central Maine Drug Clinics Under Scrutiny

Here We Go Again….

By Scott Monroe


August 16, 2008   This week, the Palmyra Board of Selectmen began discussing a temporary moratorium on methadone clinics, as the town of Sanford and city of Lewiston have previously done.

Last month, the Newport Select Board approved a moratorium to allow the town government to update its zoning ordinance to specify where a clinic can be established.

Now, the Bangor City Council is considering whether to limit the size of future methadone clinics in Bangor, which is home to three.

All of this concerns Mike Franklin, clinical supervisor of the Discovery House of Central Maine, a methadone clinic at 21 Airport Road in Waterville. Discovery House serves about 365 people.

Methadone is a synthetic opiate and is used to treat addiction to heroin and other opioid substances. There are an estimated 50,000 people in Maine addicted to opiate drugs, and the state’s nine methadone clinics only serve a couple of thousand people, Franklin said.

“To legally limit the capacity or availability of clinic doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Franklin said. “You wind up with untreated opiate addicts in your community, and that’s certainly not going to reduce your crime rate. There’s an undisputed need here in the state of Maine and its grossly underserved.”

Methadone has been available for treatment of opioid addiction in Maine since 1995.

Supporters of opening more methadone clinics say the facilities, which incorporate counseling and close monitoring , are crucial to helping addicts recover and start a new life. Critics say they just encourage more drug users and crime.

“It’s a pretty controversial thing,” said Herb Brindley, the Palmyra selectman who brought up the issue at this week’s board meeting. “My thinking is we ought to get ahead of it all so we don’t get clobbered. It’s one of those things where we have to sit down and hammer out the wording of a resolution or ordinance and then it needs to be approved by town meeting in March.”

Brindley has suggested a six-month ban on methadone clinics, much like other communities have done, so officials can research and see if town restrictions are appropriate.

Brindley says the board’s main concern is that “we don’t want them near the schools… crime is a big concern.”

The city of Lewiston several years ago imposed a six-month moratorium on methadone clinics in order to have time to devise rules to govern the clinics, said City Administrator Jim Bennett. Although thee has been some interest, Lewiston does not have a methadone clinic.

“The moratorium is a very appropriate tool in order to put the brakes on so you can look at what makes sense,” Bennett said.

But Rockland went too far when it restricted where the Turning Tide methadone clinic could open, its zoning restrictions violated the Americans With Disability Act, a federal judge ruled. The Rockland clinic, the ninth in Maine, opened a couple of weeks ago.

During Lewiston’s debate, a top concern for city officials was the belief that many people who visit methadone clinics travel from other areas and bring crime and drug problems with them to the community, Bennett said.

“You have a percentage coming into the community that have opiate addiction and based on where we were at, we did not feel we had an opiate problem in the community and the last thing we wanted was… getting it introduced into the area,” Bennett said.

Franklin, of the Waterville clinic, says those concerns are exaggerated, if not unfound. He knows of no studies that show an increase of crime or illegal drug use in areas that have methadone clinics.

To be treated at the Waterville clinic, addicts must have a documented history of addiction, a physical exam, a prescribed methadone-dose schedule, regular nursing assessments and counseling. Methadone is typically dispensed at clinics as liquid.

Most addicts are treated at methadone clinics for at least three to four years before their treatment ends, Franklin said.

“We don’t want to treat anyone who doesn’t need to be treated,” Franklin said. “We regard ourselves as stewards of not only the patient safety but also the public safety as well.”

People who successfully recover from addiction “become stable, they get jobs, they repair relationships with their family, many go back to school. In other words, they re-establish a normal life.”

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