In arguing for a proposed ordinance that would restrict methadone clinics in the city, Bangor City Councilor Richard Stone said last week that he didn’ t want to limit access to opiate-addiction treatment, but that the city of Bangor should have its “eyes wide open” when deciding whether to allow a clinic to locate here.
That would seem reasonable, except that it has been eight years since the first clinic opened its doors and today there are three of them here serving about 1,250 clients. Stone acknowledged that there had been few major problems surrounding Bangor’ s clinics to date, but that the city should be “proactive.”
Again, eight years and three clinics later.
He further stated, according to this newspaper, that if we “checked the ZIP codes, we would find that a vast majority [of clients] come from other areas [outside of Bangor].”
He could be right, though Guy Cousins, the acting director at the Office of Substance Abuse, said details about the home addresses of methadone clients is confidential under federal law. So I’ m not certain where Stone got that information.
What OSA will release is how many methadone clients come from each county, and Penobscot County continues to take that top prize.
Last year, of the 1,495 patients admitted into treatment at the eight clinics across the state, 33 percent, or 496, came from Penobscot County. Second was Cumberland County at 22 percent and 338 clients. Washington County made up 8 percent or 132 clients admitted.
Some city officials, such as Stone and Shawn Yardley, director of Bangor’ s Department of Health and Community Services, have cited their concern for the clients, saying it is not fair to make them drive such long distances to seek daily treatment in Bangor when clinics could just as easily be opened in other towns.
They cite the financial burden placed on the city by clients who relocate to Bangor to be close to treatment. It is suspected that many people seeking subsidized housing in Bangor are enrolled in methadone treatment programs, Yardley said.
What is left unsaid is that other towns in the area, such as Newport and Brewer, are considering ordinances that would essentially eliminate the ability of methadone clinics to locate in their towns. Ellsworth passed such an ordinance last winter.
Some officials in those towns are saying that they neither want nor need methadone clinics in their backyards.
But guess what? Opiate addicts live in Brewer. They live in Newport and they live in Ellsworth.
Instead of town and city officials reaching out to the city of Bangor and offering support to deal with the continuing opiate problem that plagues our state, town selectmen and councilors are putting up the “talk to the hand” solution.
The problem Stone and the city of Bangor have is a lack of real information, and that is where the state should step in. The state does not regulate clinics and does not get involved in the local ordinances that either restrict or govern them.
That needs to change.
Because actual information about methadone clinics and the impact their clients have on the “host communities” is lacking, Bangor officials lack good, fact-based arguments when now saying eight years later that they are jumping on the bandwagon that would severely restrict those clinics.
In March 2005 lawmakers in Augusta voted not to impose proposed statutory hurdles for operators of methadone clinics. Instead, members of the Health and Human Services Committee agreed that OSA should revise its regulations to ensure a broad community dialogue before any new methadone clinic is licensed by the state. Committee members also supported a requirement for an annual public review of any clinic’ s impact on its host community.
It seems that has not been done in Bangor. The last impact statement that OSA is aware of occurred in 2002, six years ago and only two years after the first clinic opened here.
There are a lot of experienced city officials in Bangor, as well as a lot of well-educated substance abuse experts who are providing this care. The state should be stepping up, following the strong advice of the Health and Human Services Committee and finding out what actual impact these clinics have on our city and how this statewide problem is best addressed in this region.
That’ s what town and city officials all over this area should be requesting. The argument over methadone clinics should not be based on a “not in my backyard” attitude. It should not be a competition over who can pass the toughest ordinances. Area municipal officials should be reaching out, working together and demanding some accountability and support from the state.