BANGOR, Maine - The city has released a proposed new ordinance restricting methadone treatment programs and has scheduled a public hearing on the measure for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, during the regular meeting of the Government Operations Committee at City Hall.
If approved by the City Council, the new ordinance will ban any new methadone treatment clinics within city limits. It will require the three existing clinics to get city approval before increasing their licensed capacity in addition to the state approval already required. And even if the clinics demonstrate significant unmet need for more methadone treatment, the new ordinance will allow the city to reject an application for increased capacity if there is evidence that another community would be a better location.
City Councilor Richard Stone, whose concerns about Bangor becoming “a dumping ground” for methadone treatment programs led to the proposed new ordinance, said Wednesday that he has gotten a lot of positive feedback about restricting the clinics.
“People tell me ‘ It’ s about time,’ and ‘ How come nobody’ s done this before,’ ” Stone said. His intention is not to deny methadone treatment to opiate-addicted Mainers, he said, but to allow the city to “go into it with our eyes open” when plans are under consideration to increase the number of clinics or the number of people in treatment.
City attorney Norman Heitmann predicted there would be a good turnout at the public hearing next month. The general public remains deeply interested in the issue of methadone treatment for opiate addiction, he said.
Heitmann added that he does not expect as much “excitement” over the new ordinance as there was in 2000 when the area’ s first methadone clinic, the one now located at The Acadia Hospital on Stillwater Avenue, was proposed.
“People have more understanding of this issue now,” he said, adding that he hopes for “a rational, coherent, informed discussion” about restricting the growth of methadone treatment in Bangor.
Brent Scobie, director of substance abuse services at Acadia Hospital, said he is less concerned about the potential impact of the new ordinance on existing methadone programs in the city than about the precedent Bangor may set for other Maine communities. With some other area municipalities — including Ellsworth, Newport and most recently Brewer — imposing or considering restrictive ordinances, Scobie said the state should play a more active role in educating communities about methadone treatment and develop a more formal regulatory process for determining where clinics should be located.
Scobie said the current demand for methadone treatment in the Bangor area is being met — in fact, he said, enrollment in all three clinics in the city is below capacity. But based on where clients are coming from, he suggested future clinics might do well to locate in the Dover-Foxcroft area, somewhere in the area between Calais and Bangor, on Mount Desert Island or in the most northern part of the state.
At the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, director Guy Cousins said he hopes to attend the public hearing in Bangor next month. Cousins said the role his office can play in the debate is to provide accurate information to residents and to clinics about the need for services.
“Historically, we do not involve ourselves in civic ordinances,” he said. Cousins said it would be inappropriate for the state to assume a stronger regulatory role in deciding where methadone clinics should be located, and he drew a parallel between treating opiate addiction and treating other chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
“If [the state] tried to micromanage treatment for other chronic diseases, there would be a complete uproar,” he said.