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Proposed Methadone Clinic Ordinance Facing Revisions

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By Shawn P. Sullivan

October 16, 2008  Sanford  Town councilors this Tuesday are expected to review a revised version of the proposed ordinance for regulating mental health and abuse centers in Sanford.

At issue is the town’s attempt to have some influence over where a methadone clinic would be permitted in Sanford and how it could operate.

During a public hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 7, Planning Director James Gulnac said that he and his colleagues on a subcommittee determined that methadone clinics should be under the broader classification of “mental health and abuse centers” in order to avoid discrimination against individuals who need methadone to treat heroin addictions. Such people are protected under the American Disabilities Act.

“The goal here is to find a way to provide the opportunities for this activity to fit into the community,” Gulnac said.

Currently, Sanford does not have zoning ordinance regulating these activities. Gulnac, Town Manager Mark Green, Police Chief Thomas Connolly and Goodall Hospital President and CEO Darlene Stromstad have spent the past few months working on the draft ordinance that councilors discussed last week.

Work on the ordinance began earlier this year after Colonial Management Group, of Manchester, N.H., showed interest last December in establishing an outpatient methadone clinic in Sanford – specifically, in a space formerly occupied by the Adrenaline night club at the Mid-Town Mall. The company, based in Florida, operates methadone treatment centers in Bangor and New Hampshire.

The clinic proposed for Sanford would be the first in York County. Several residents, business owners and town officials oppose the idea, believing that it’s not in step with local efforts to revitalize the community and attract more business.

For the town, the clock is ticking. The town council enacted an emergency moratorium on addiction treatment clinics last December after Colonial Management Group’s interest surfaced.In May,the council extended the moratorium through November 27, in order to give Gulnac, Green, Connolly and Stromstad time to finish the proposed ordinance.

Methadone s a synthetic narcotic that has been used for more than 30 years to treat addiction to heroin morphine and other opioid drugs. Methadone reduces the cravings associated with heroin use, but does not provide the euphoric rush of heroin. It is not an effective treatment for other drugs of abuse.

Methadone is itself addictive and most treatment programs focus on lifetime maintenance on the drug, rather than total drug withdrawal. Patients trying to withdraw from opiates must take the methadone orally every day to suppress symptoms of narcotic withdrawal.

During the October 7 public hearing, Dr. Mukesh Bhargava, of Goodall Hospital, told councilors that methadone has “street value.”

Methadone has such value and also has “abuse potential.” Of the approximately 23,000 patients that the hospital’s emergency department has treated in the past year, between 20 and 25 of them re opiate patients, including those seeking detoxification, Hall said.

Both Bhargava and Hall told councilors that they were speaking during the hearing only to provide information, not to state positions for or against methadone clinics.

One resident, Anne Gagne, spoke out against having a methadone clinic in Sanford. She specifically addressed the “lifetime maintenance” that such a clinic would have to provide. A methadone clinic, she said, would not enhance the community, particularly at a time when Sanford has lost jobs.

“This is not going to bring a lot of jobs to town,” Gagne said. “I’d rather see good industry come.”

Town councilors discussed the proposed ordinance during a workshop in late September. At last week’s hearing, Green noted that a subcommittee of town councilors and planning board members had since met and come up with some recommended changes for the ordinance.

Green said the subcommittee members would like to see a licensing fee of $250 for such clinics. They’d also like to see a residential buffer of at least 25 feet.

Green added that the subcommittee is recommending eliminating the buffers around churches that appeared in the original draft. Gulnac spoke of this recommendation, noting that churches do not have as consistent day-to-day use as schools.

In the original draft, the ordinance proposed a 2,500-foot buffer around the parks and day care facilities in town; now the subcommittees recommending a lesser buffer of 1,000 feet.  Gulnac earlier had noted that applicants would need to demonstrate during the town’s review process that a proposed clinic would not be within 1,00 feet of a day care facility – such a stipulation would help acknowledge that day care facilities frequently open and close or relocate and therefore do not belong in an established buffer zone.

Lastly, Green said the subcommittee wants to make sure the state and federal processes are strong enough for applicants seeking to establish a clinic in town.

During the public hearing, two local mental-health professionals, one from Counseling Services, Inc. and another from Sweetser, expressed concerns that their operations would fall subject to the restrictions of ordinance, given that they both fall under “mental health and abuse centers.”

Reiterating a point made earlier by Gulnac, Town Attorney Bryan Dench said activities at existing mental health and abuse centers would be able to continue unaffected by any newly established buffer zones.

The public hearing marked the first reading of the ordinance. The second and final reading will take place next month.

Both Councilors Brad Littlefield and Alan Walsh expressed misgivings about the lessened restrictions of he revised ordinance. Councilor Kevin Chabot, however, stated that he liked the direction in which the subcommittee is heading with its recommendations.

Councilors will discuss the ordinance again at their meeting on Tuesday.

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  1. October 16, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Thank you, Billie!

    I received only ONE email back from the people on the counsel. That response only stated “thank you for the information”.

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