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Sanford Council Approves Ordinance For Mental Health And Abuse Centers

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By Shawn P. Sullivan

December 4, 2008  Sanford – The Sanford Town Council has approved an ordinance that regulates new mental health and abuse centers and determines where methadone clinics can and cannot be established.

The ordinance’s passage last week occurred just in the nick of time – the town’s moratorium on methadone clinics had been set to expire two days later, on Thursday, Nov. 27.

The council enacted the moratorium in December 2007 after Colonial Management Group, of Manchester, N.H., showed interest in setting up an outpatient methadone clinic in Sanford – specifically, at the Mid-Town Mall, in the space formerly occupied by the Adrenaline nightclub. The company, based in Florida, operates methadone clinics in Bangor and New Hampshire.

Several residents, business owners and town officials have gone on record opposing the idea of a methadone clinic coming to town, asserting that such an operation would run counter to the community’s efforts to revitalize Sanford. Currently, there are no methadone clinics in York County.

In May, the council extended the moratorium through Nov. 27.

Methadone i a synthetic narcotic used to treat individuals who are addicted to heroin, morphine and other related drugs. It reduced the cravings associated with heroin but does not provide that drug’s rush.

Methadone itself is addictive and most treatment programs focus on providing individuals with a lifetime maintenance of the drug, as opposed to an eventual, complete withdrawal from it. Patients trying to overcome an addiction to heroin and other opiates take methadone orally daily, in order to suppress symptoms of narcotic withdrawal.

Before the ordinance passed on Nov. 25 – it went into effect immediately – Sanford had not had a zoning ordinance regulating activities associated with methadone clinics. The moratorium allowed time for a newly formed panel to create such an ordinance and propose it. Town Manager Mark Green, Planning Board Director James Gulnac, Police Chief Thomas Connolly, and Goodall Hospital President and CEO Darlene Stromstad served on the panel.

Gulnac presented the panel’s draft of the ordinance to the council during a public hearing in October. He explained that he and his fellow panelists determined that methadone clinics should be classified under “mental health and abuse centers” in order to avoid discriminating against people who need methadone to treat their heroin addictions Such individuals are protected under the American Disabilities Act.

During the hearing, local mental health professionals from Counseling Services, Inc. and Sweetser told councilors they were concerned that their services would be subject to the ordinance’s restrictions, given that they too operate “mental health and abuse centers.” Town Attorney Bryan Dench assured the professionals and the councilors that existing services would be able to continue unaffected by any newly established buffer zones.

As a result of the public hearing, the panel took the ordinances back to the drawing board for fine-tuning. Councilors revisited the ordinance during the ordinance meetings and workshops that followed.

Changes in the ordinance occurred right up to the last moment – at the council’s Nov. 25 meeting Councilor Maura Herlihy made a motion to lower the town’s annual fee for mental health and abuse clinics from $250 to $100. The council approved the amendment 5 to 12.

“The Town Council recognizes that an outpatient addiction treatment clinic can be a valuable component of our health care system if operated by qualified and responsible operators and subject to reasonable regulations to assure effective operation,” the ordinance reads. “The Town Council also recognizes the importance of appropriately siting clinics in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare. This requires restricting the proximity of clinics to schools, churches, family day care homes small day care facilities, day care centers, public parks and playgrounds, and other locations where children and young adults may frequent.”

As a result, under the new ordinance, mental health and abuse clinics – such as methadone treatment centers – would be a “conditionally permitted use” provided they are not established within 2,500 feet of any of Sanford’s schools and 1,000 feet of any of the town’s parks.

Furthermore, an applicant must demonstrate at the time of application that the proposed clinic would not be established within 1,000 feet of a “day care, Family Day Care or other child care provider.” Such a stipulation is the ordinance’s acknowledgement that day care centers and services frequently open, close or relocate and are not as fixed in their locations as schools and parks.

The ordinance states that mental health and abuse centers should also be located in areas accessible to public transportation. The document also asserts that it is in the town’s best interest to “protect areas,” such as downtown Sanford and the Village of Springvale, “where efforts are currently being made to stimulate new business investment and encourage focused and planned economic growth.”

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