Police: Closure of methadone clinic had minimal effect on area

Posted Oct. 12, 2010, at 9:52 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — It has been almost two months since state and federal authorities shut down a Rockland methadone clinic, which served nearly 300 clients.

Local police seem to agree crime trends have remained mostly unchanged since August, although there are concerns about a potential increase in prescription drug abuse and related crimes.

“I don’t think much has changed. It’s stayed about the same,” said Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison. “We’ve been pretty fortunate.”During a debate last month among candidates for Knox County sheriff, Dennison referred to the prevalence of prescription drug abuse in the midcoast area and how the use of illegal drugs is “the biggest cause of crime” in the county.

The methadone clinic, Turning Tide, provided a legal daily dose of the synthetic opiate methadone to about 280 clients as a replacement for illicit prescription painkillers and illegal drugs such as heroin.

But law enforcement officials closed down Turning Tide in mid-August, citing an unspecified threat to public health and safety after a federal investigation into illegal drug activities by the clinic’s owner and a counselor there.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency determined that “Turning Tide’s continued registration to dispense controlled substances constitutes an immediate danger to public health and safety.” The state then permanently revoked the clinic’s license based on the federal investigation.

Clients who were served by the Rockland clinic can get their doses of methadone at other clinics, such as those in Waterville or Bangor — each an hour and a half drive. According to Rob Kornacki, the director of development for Discovery House, which runs both the Waterville and Bangor clinics, 168 patients from Rockland now are served in Waterville and about 20 of the patients now go to Bangor for their doses.

Thomaston Police chief Kevin Haj speculated Tuesday that when winter arrives and it becomes less convenient to drive an hour and a half to get a dose of methadone, drug-related crimes might become more prevalent.

“I think there will be long-term effects,” he said. “There is some desperation out there about how they are going to get their drugs.”

The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s Mid-Coast Regional Task Force supervisor James Pease said Tuesday prescription drug trafficking continues to be an issue.

“We’ve been hearing there have been a lot more prescription pills for sale on the street right now,” he said.

But Pease said there is no definite connection between any increased criminal activity and the clinic closure.

The only difference in crime local authorities have seen in relation to the shutdown is a decrease in early-morning erratic driving complaints.

Thomaston Police Chief Haj said because the clinic stopped giving doses of the drug around 10 a.m. each day, some people rushed to get there.

“It was always the last-minute ones” the police received complaints about, Haj said.

Although that is the apparent extent of any post-clinic crime trends, Haj said it has been only two months and things might change.

In the past few weeks, a pharmacy in Waldoboro was burglarized and a man with a machete attempted to rob a Rite Aid in Rockland, according to police.

Rockland Police chief Bruce Boucher said his department will be watching for any trends as time goes on.

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