Home > All Posts, All things MAT, Family and Friends, NIMBYism > Salem residents should not fear methadone clinic » Opinion » SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Salem residents should not fear methadone clinic » Opinion » SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Salem residents should not fear methadone clinic » Opinion » SalemNews.com, Salem, MA.

July 13, 2010

Salem residents should not fear methadone clinic

As the city of Salem considers whether and where to permit a methadone clinic, it is my hope that citizens will support the creation of the facility.

Thus far, resident reaction to the clinic has been mixed. Some of the opposition to the proposed building centered on its Canal Street location. But much of the resistance stemmed from the fears and misconceptions that residents harbor about drug treatment centers and the addicts who seek help at them.

Community Substance Abuse Centers (CSAC), the for-profit company that is proposing a Salem location, runs 13 methadone centers, eight of which are in Massachusetts. Started in the early 1980s by two doctors and a hospital administrator, and now serving approximately 4,000 patients, the company’s clinics are universally well-regarded by district attorneys, the court system and local police departments.

All methadone clinics are highly regulated and monitored frequently by federal, state and independent audit agencies. Their records, standards, policies and daily procedures must be disciplined, organized and professional.

I visited CSAC’s clinic on Crescent Street in Chelsea to observe the center’s operation and to get a feel for the dynamics of the comings-and-goings of drug addicts receiving treatment.

I was struck by the diversity of people using the clinic and the universally quiet, focused, businesslike manner with which they arrived, drank their daily dose and left.

Young and old, men and women — even people pushing baby strollers — came to the center. Chelsea serves 600 patients, and significant percentages come by car, bus, taxi or walk.

Salem residents would be particularly interested to note that the Chelsea center is located two longish blocks from the nearest bus route. Many patients walk every morning — without incident — through the adjacent residential neighborhood to reach the clinic.

Additionally, there is a CSAC staffer in the clinic parking lot every day during the dose dispensing hours of 6 to 11 a.m. This employee assures the orderly process of arrival and departure.

I spoke with Chelsea police Chief Brian Kyes about the clinic. He confirmed that the professionalism of the clinic and the businesslike conduct of the addict-patients that I had observed is indeed the norm. He said that he could not remember so much as a traffic infraction — or any other incident — that stemmed from patients at the clinic or walking in the neighborhoods around it.

The key to understanding why a methadone clinic is not a threat to us or our children is to understand the mindset of addicts seeking treatment.

First of all, the patients seek help voluntarily. They want to participate successfully in the program.

By the time they apply for clinic services, they usually have been addicts (heroin and other opiates) for years, and have come to realize the ferocious grip and desperation of their habit.

At a clinic, patients can become invested in their rehabilitation. “Success” comes in steps and stages.

Addicts are required to come every day, 365 days a year, and participate in regular individual and group counseling sessions. They agree to random urine tests.

Although there are some failures and relapses, many addicts stabilize their lives, hold steady jobs, and live healthily with family and children. Some are weaned off the methadone, while others require a daily dose for years. But either way — no longer supporting an expensive, illegal habit — they stop committing crimes, stay out of prison, and contribute both financially and civically to society.

Lastly, it takes courage and commitment to join a methadone clinic’s program. Owning up to being a “junkie” — one of the most feared, reviled and stigmatized of outcasts — is not easy. Ironically, for that reason, the wish of some Salem residents for the clinic to go somewhere else, is matched perfectly by the clinic’s patients’ desires to be invisible.

While it is true that many drug addicts made horrendous personal choices, and should have exercised greater personal responsibility, the rest of us are faced with our own choice today. We can extend a hand to those who are ready to try to right themselves, or we can push them away.

Untreated addicts end up dead or in jail. We can spend $45,000 per year per inmate to incarcerate them over and over again, or we can assist the addicts who are willing to try to break that cycle.

Salem residents have nothing to fear from a methadone clinic, which will only increase the number of addicts who seek help. On the contrary, by every measure, I’d say it’s a lot more dangerous and costly to society to forbid these clinics.

• • •

Brian T. Watson of Swampscott is a regular Salem News columnist. Contact him at watson@nii .net.

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