Concern in the community

— Opin­ions differed about the hot-but­ton is­sue of meth­adone clin­ics dur­ing a re­cent hear­ing of the House Demo­crat­ic Policy Com­mit­tee.

Pete Specos, Pres­id­ent of the Frank­ford Civic As­so­ci­ation, brought up sev­er­al con­cerns re­gard­ing Meth­adone clin­ics and re­cov­ery houses in his neigh­bor­hood to law­makers from ac­cross the state. (Brad Lar­ris­on)

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. ••

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