Dover-Foxcroft discusses methadone clinics

Posted Jan. 22, 2010, at 8:37 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:06 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Having been directed to revisit a proposed land use ordinance that was defeated by residents in November, the land use ordinance committee held a lengthy discussion Wednesday about the possible need to include in the revision some regulations for methadone clinics.

That was scrapped, however, when a hospital health official told the committee it was “pretty unlikely” that someone would want to open a clinic in Dover-Foxcroft.

Rather than add more to the proposed ordinance, the committee decided to consider only the minor revisions suggested by residents at an earlier public hearing and at a meeting Wednesday and to forward the revised document to the planning board for its approval.

Some town officials believe the proposed ordinance was rejected earlier because of confusion over the ordinance and a couple of amendments.

By law, the town must have a land use ordinance that complies with the comprehensive plan adopted by residents in 2006. If the planning board approves the revised ordinance, it will be forwarded to selectmen for a public hearing, then placed on the town meeting ballot.

“As a committee, we were given this comprehensive plan that was approved that says you will have these kinds of zones and you will create them. We did that and it was defeated,” George Barton, chairman of the ordinance committee, said Wednesday. “We’re trying to hear what was wrong with it.” As of Wednesday, there were few suggestions for changes.

As in November, residents will be asked to approve an amendment to the comprehensive plan to change the buildable lot size in certain areas of the town from 10 to 2 acres. The comprehensive plan calls for a 10-acre lot size for building in some areas of the town, which the land use ordinance committee thought was too oner-ous, so the committee has recommended amending that to a 2-acre minimum.

Barton said the committee could find no other place in the state that required a 10-acre lot size in order to build. “We think that’s a real burden on a landowner. We want to say 2 acres, so that’s a change to the comp plan,” he said. Residents also will be asked to approve a subdivision amendment and an amendment to change the frontage in the comprehensive plan from 400 feet to 200 feet.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the committee heard from John Spieker, director of psychiatry and counseling services at Mayo Regional Hospital, who addressed the committee’s concerns about methadone clinics. The town has no ordinance that addresses either methadone or marijuana clinics.

Asked how realistic it would be to expect to see a retail methadone clinic in Dover-Foxcroft, Spieker said, “At this point in time, I would say it’s pretty unlikely.” Spieker said the town doesn’t have the population base of people on methadone who would change the care they are getting, probably in Bangor, to make such a busi-ness sustainable in Dover-Foxcroft.

Even if there were interest, Spieker said, zoning would not eliminate all the problems.

“I think zoning is a really, really important piece to struggle with and define,” he said. “But it won’t, in my opinion … guarantee that you will be mostly problem-free because a lot of it is going to be based upon what and how is the management and the structure of the entity providing that service.”

Substance abuse services are provided by a wide range of organizations, Spieker said, so a church-based organization, a hospital, a nonprofit organization or a for-profit business could open a clinic, and it could be very well run or very poorly run.

“We have no plan or goal to create a methadone clinic. That’s not part of our agenda for the purposes of substance abuse treatment,” he said of Mayo Regional Hospital.

“The biggest challenge that Maine has had — and it’s not just Maine, it’s really kind of northeast United States — is a preponderance of opiate-based prescriptions have really impacted our communities,” Spieker said.

He said there is a lot of prescription drug abuse and misuse, which is sometimes deliberate and sometimes not. Doctors prescribe a pain reliever for a long period and some people develop a physical and psychological dependency on that drug, he said.

“Nobody ever plans to become a drug addict or an alcoholic; it’s not something you aspire to when you’re five years old, but it does happen in a lot of people’s lives.”

Spieker said Maine has been doing surveys for a number of years on substance abuse and Piscataquis County “consistently ends up in one of the worst places,” the predominant component being alcohol followed by marijuana.

The challenge, Spieker said, is how to help these abusers make different choices and live a different lifestyle that doesn’t have those negative consequences.

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