A longtime Frankford activist and a veteran police commander last week told state legislators about their unpleasant dealings with methadone clinics.
A short time later, a half-dozen people told the lawmakers that many methadone clinics are properly run and that they effectively wean addicts off drugs. The typical patient receives the drug seven days a week.
State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-172nd dist.) hosted a hearing of the House Democratic Policy Committee on Jan. 30 at the Mayfair Community Center.
Boyle is actively opposed to a proposed methadone clinic at Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street, in part, because of its proximity to houses and businesses in the Holmesburg and Mayfair areas. He’s also opposed because he believes the owner, The Healing Way, tried to open without alerting the community.
The Healing Way obtained permits from the city Department of Licenses and Inspections in January 2011. Many neighbors were outraged when they found out later that summer as renovations were being made.
Opponents appealed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which revoked the permits. The Healing Way appealed to Common Pleas Court. A judge heard from both sides at a hearing, but has yet to rule.
Boyle invited The Healing Way to attend last week’s hearing, but said the agency did not respond.
The same coalition of Holmesburg and Mayfair residents opposed to that clinic is also trying to block NorthEast Treatment Centers from obtaining a variance to open a methadone clinic at 7520 State Road. Both sides were in front of the ZBA two weeks ago and will be back on March 6.
As for the hearing, Frankford Civic Association president Pete Specos said his neighborhood is burdened by two methadone clinics along Frankford Avenue and more than 100 “flop houses” for recovering drug addicts.
Specos would prefer that the facilities be off the commercial corridor and in local abandoned factories. He believes operators should be more forthcoming with neighbors before opening and welcome the community to tour the facilities once they open.
Specos said some clients roam through the neighborhood, urinating in public and engaging in drug sales. He and other neighborhood activists are trying to bring businesses back to Frankford Avenue, but prospective buyers often see loitering outside the rehabs.
“What’s that crowd there?” is a typical question from potential business owners, he said.
Capt. John McCloskey, commander of the 15th Police District, spent many years working in the 35th Police District. He recalls policing the area around a methadone clinic on Old York Road.
McCloskey said the place was a hangout. He said clients would urinate in driveways and walk through the neighborhood, making residents “uneasy.”
The area was also known for a prostitution problem, and McCloskey linked the clinic’s clients to a spike in property crime, such as car break-ins. He added that clients would visit a local McDonald’s to make drug sales.
As for the proposed clinic at Frankford and Decatur, McCloskey said it would have a “negative impact on the community” and would require additional officers assigned to the area.
“It’s just not the place for it,” he said. “It would be a strain on the police department.”
Testifying on behalf of the benefits of methadone were Dr. James Cornish, director of the opioid treatment program at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and associate director of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania; Sandy Cini, clinical director of the Aldie Counseling Center in Doylestown; Noni West, a program specialist with the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania Inc., a nonprofit that supports drug recovery support organization; Brittan Auletto, a recovery specialist with the Council of SEPA; Andre Ried, a recovery special with PMHCC, a nonprofit that serves substance abuse programs; and Sharon A.L. Brass, a representative for anonymous support groups.
“It is an excellent medication,” Cornish said.
Cini described methadone treatments for clients as “one small part of their day.” She’s seen former drug addicts go on to graduate college, get jobs and be reunited with their children. She sees the treatment, along with individual and group therapy and counseling, as a much better option than arresting or burying addicts.
“Methadone maintenance treatment works,” she said.
Auletto said she comes from a great family, but became addicted to heroin and Oxycontin at age 17. Today, she works and is about to graduate from Drexel, thanks in large part to methadone treatment.
“It saved my life and saves countless other people’s lives,” she said.
West, a Doylestown councilwoman, said the borough manager and police chief have indicated that there is no crime increase near Aldie. The center’s presence does not interfere with the nearby county courthouse and did not have an effect on the building of $650,000 townhouses.
In fact, she initially was unaware of Aldie.
“I had no idea there was a methadone clinic in Doylestown,” she said.
In all, 19 Democratic state representatives attended parts of the two-hour-plus hearing. Boyle was joined by, among others, local Reps. Ed Neilson and John Sabatina Jr.
Boyle described methadone treatment as a complex issue and agreed that addicts need to be treated.
“But we also need to find out a way that the treatment is done in a responsible way,” he said.
Boyle said industrial sites are ideal locations for methadone clinics and still questions why The Healing Way would want to open in a residential and business setting that offers only four parking spots for up to 750 patients a day.
“I’m at wit’s end,” he said.
Sabatina took a particular interest in Cornish’s explanation of Vivitrol, a once-a-month injection that serves as what the doctor called “a blocker” for an opiate’s euphoric effects. Cornish called the drug “very, very effective,” although he added that it is not for people also on pain medication.
Sabatina, noting that methadone clients receive the drug every day, said Vivitrol use would greatly lessen a clinic’s impact on the community because it lasts for 30 days.
“I think it should be another tool in the toolbox,” he said. ••