ROCKLAND, Maine — Law enforcement officials closed down the Turning Tide methadone clinic in Rockland on Thursday, citing an unspecified threat to public health and safety.
An investigation by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has determined that “Turning Tide’s continued registration to dispense controlled substances constitutes an immediate danger to public health and safety,” said DEA spokesman Anthony Pettigrew of the agency’s regional office in Boston. Pettigrew would provide no details of the investigation, which is ongoing.
Clinic operators have 30 days to appeal the closure, Pettigrew said.
Guy Cousins, director of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, said the state has permanently revoked the clinic’s license based on the federal investigation.
Approximately 280 drug-addicted Turning Tide clients, who receive a daily therapeutic dose of methadone, will be referred to other methadone programs.
About 10 law enforcement officers from federal, state and local agencies arrived at the Turning Tide clinic on Route 1 at about 11 a.m. Thursday after the clinic had stopped dispensing methadone for the day, according to Pettigrew.
No clients were present at the time, he said. The officers confiscated an unspecified amount of methadone, which is now in the custody of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. Pettigrew said the operation ran smoothly and there were no confrontations.
The closure comes a few weeks after the clinic’s owner and a drug counselor there were charged with felony drug offenses. Owner and licensed operator Angel Fuller-McMahan was arrested July 13 after law enforcement agents witnessed her purchasing drugs in a New County Road parking lot and later found $2,500 worth of cocaine hidden in her pants and drug paraphernalia in her car.
A few days later, on July 16, clinic counselor Carol Gardiner of Thorndike was summoned for attempted possession of cocaine. Law enforcement officials said at the time that investigation of Fuller-McMahan’s arrest revealed that some of the cocaine she purchased was intended for Gardiner.
Both women have previous drug convictions.
The clinic, which opened in 2008, provides a legal daily dose of the synthetic opiate methadone to about 280 clients. Methadone is used as a replacement therapy for illicit prescription painkillers and illegal drugs like heroin. Daily dosing is required to prevent users from experiencing the pain and sickness associated with sudden withdrawal. Clinics are heavily regulated by federal agencies and licensed by the state.
“Our main focus is on helping the clients transition into service at other clinics,” Cousins said Thursday afternoon.
Turning Tide staff members were working Thursday to contact all clients and refer them to other methadone programs, he said. Records will be sent to receiving clinics, and the state will try to help clients who have transportation needs, he said. There are clinics located in Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Waterville, Calais and Bangor.
Methadone treatment is controversial with some critics claiming it simply exchanges a legal drug for an illegal one without addressing the underlying problems of addiction. Some methadone from treatment clinics also ends up on the street, where it is sold illegally.
Cousins said he feared the problems at Turning Tide would worsen public sentiment against the use of methadone in treating opiate addiction.
“I worry people will use this to further their cause of speaking against the efficacy of methadone,” he said.
A spokesman for the methadone program at The Acadia Hospital in Bangor said Thursday afternoon that the program there had not been contacted about accepting new clients from Rockland but would be open to helping out in the situation.