Zoning hearing begins for methadone clinic

At­tor­neys Dan Mc­Caf­fery and Mi­chael Yan­off speak with op­pon­ents of a pro­posed meth­adone clin­ic at 7520 State Road fol­low­ing a Jan. 23 hear­ing in front of the Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment. (Tom War­ing)

Back in Feb­ru­ary 2009, some 1,500 people turned out at Anne Frank Ele­ment­ary School in Bustleton to op­pose a planned meth­adone clin­ic at Grant Av­en­ue and Roosevelt Boulevard.

North­East Treat­ment Cen­ters would dis­pense meth­adone — which is used to wean people off drugs — to ad­dicts liv­ing gen­er­ally north of Cottman Av­en­ue.

The city saw the op­pos­i­tion that night and with­drew its sup­port. Dr. Don­ald Schwarz, com­mis­sion­er of the city De­part­ment of Health, told the crowd, “We are go­ing to go back and think about oth­er loc­a­tions.”

The new loc­a­tion is 7520 State Road. Last week, of­fi­cials from the city and NET ap­peared in front of the Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment to try to win a vari­ance to open at that loc­a­tion.

The op­pos­i­tion at the Jan. 23 hear­ing was led by Holmes­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent Rich Frizell, May­fair Civic As­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent Joe De­Fe­lice and neigh­bors.

Just four wit­nesses test­i­fied dur­ing the two-hour hear­ing, which was con­tin­ued un­til March 6. Roughly 20 oth­er wit­nesses are sched­uled to testi­fy. The case seems destined to land in ap­peals courts.

“This is go­ing to be a mara­thon, not a sprint,” said law­yer Dan Mc­Caf­fery,  rep­res­ent­ing the op­pon­ents. Law­yer Mi­chael Yan­off also rep­res­ents res­id­ents and busi­ness own­ers op­posed to the clin­ic.

Law­yer Steve Pol­lock rep­res­ents NET.

The ZBA is made up of five mem­bers: chair­wo­man Lynette Brown-Sow, Car­ol Tin­ari, Sam Staten, Greg Pastore and Marty Bed­narek, a banker from Lex­ing­ton Park.

Last March, the ZBA voted 4-1 to re­voke a per­mit is­sued to The Heal­ing Way, which is seek­ing to open a meth­adone clin­ic at Frank­ford Av­en­ue and Dec­atur Street. Brown-Sow, Tin­ari and Staten voted in the ma­jor­ity. Pastore and Bed­narek were not on the board at the time.

The NET pro­pos­al is un­re­lated to the bid by The Heal­ing Way, which is op­posed by the same co­ali­tion of folks in Holmes­burg and May­fair. That case re­mains in the courts.

NET’s oth­er sites in­clude one at 2205 Bridge St. The agency presen­ted let­ters vouch­ing for its op­er­a­tion from state Rep. John Taylor, Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on and Mari­time Academy Charter School.

Brown-Sow said she has re­ceived let­ters of op­pos­i­tion from City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on, state Sen. Mike Stack, the Holmes­burg and Up­per Holmes­burg civic as­so­ci­ations and New Found­a­tions Charter School. Aides to Hen­on and Stack at­ten­ded the hear­ing. Also, about 800 people have signed a pe­ti­tion in  op­pos­i­tion.

The site is about 54,000 square feet. In his let­ter, Frizell notes the pres­ence of nearby pris­ons on State Road. He wrote, “A fur­ther in­sti­tu­tion­al­iz­a­tion of State Road runs coun­ter­point to our vis­ion.”

Pol­lock’s four wit­nesses were Ar­thur Evans, com­mis­sion­er of the city De­part­ment of Be­ha­vi­or­al Health and In­tel­lec­tu­al Dis­ab­il­ity Ser­vices; Ro­land Lamb, dir­ect­or of the city’s Of­fice of Ad­dic­tion Ser­vices; Ter­rence Mc­Sh­erry, the long­time pres­id­ent and CEO of North­East Treat­ment Cen­ters; and John Car­roll, dir­ect­or of the cen­ter’s NET Steps pro­gram.

Evans ex­plained that the city ac­cep­ted NET’s bid to provide ser­vices to res­id­ents of the 19111, 19114, 19115, 19116 and 19136 ZIP codes. He called NET a “very strong pro­vider” and likened its pro­gram to “a na­tion­al mod­el.”

Meth­adone is ef­fect­ive treat­ment, Evans said, dis­miss­ing claims that dis­pens­ing cen­ters are mag­nets for drug­gies.

“There’s no evid­ence of that,” he said.

Mc­Sh­erry said NET has de­veloped a good repu­ta­tion in the 32 years he has been at the helm. The agency is seek­ing to con­sol­id­ate two lots — one at 7520 State Road, the oth­er at 7550 — in­to one, par­tially by de­mol­ish­ing a build­ing.

About 100 people would be on staff. Meth­adone would be dis­pensed sev­en days a week from about 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Up to 350 people would re­ceive meth­adone per day. Chil­dren of pa­tients would have a play area. There would be no overnight stays.

In all, there would be 153 park­ing spaces. Park­ing would be on the side of the build­ing, with some spots in the back.

Mc­Sh­erry said the site is eas­ily ac­cess­ible by pub­lic trans­port­a­tion but far enough away from homes to avoid dir­ectly im­pact­ing res­id­ents.

The meth­adone would be dis­pensed in li­quid form. Pa­tients would not be giv­en pills to take off premises.

Mc­Sh­erry said meth­adone will help North­east ad­dicts kick the habit.

“It’s needed, and we want to be able to provide it,” he said.

Car­roll said li­censed nurses dis­pense the medi­cine. A se­lect num­ber of pa­tients might re­ceive an in­jec­tion of Vivit­rol, which lasts for 30 days and blocks an opi­ate’s eu­phor­ic ef­fects.

Pa­tients also re­ceive coun­sel­ing and are tested for drug use dur­ing the pro­gram. NET also likes to see in­di­vidu­als re­ceive fam­ily sup­port on their way to sobri­ety.

As for se­cur­ity, there would be video cam­er­as and guards.

Car­roll said pa­tients fill out a 24-page ap­plic­a­tion. Court-ordered ad­dicts are not ac­cep­ted. If pa­tients skip a day, staff will call them.

“We’re look­ing for people who really want to change their lives,” he said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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