WARREN, Maine — Two companies trying to create methadone clinics in the midcoast are in a neck-and-neck race to open first. Recently, both companies announced prospective opening schedules and it appears there may not be a clear winner. Both clinics likely will open and compete, according to the companies.
CRC Healthgroup said it plans to open a clinic in Warren first and whether two clinics operate in Knox County will be up to its competitor. Colonial Management Group, which plans to open a clinic in Rockland, does not speak with the press, according to its corporate headquarters, but it told the city that it will open far sooner than CRC.
CRC is one step away from securing its state license — it just needs an on-site review, according to the state agency on substance abuse, but it doesn’t have town approval. Colonial has the opposite: go-ahead from Rockland, but hasn’t begun the state application.
Colonial told Rockland it planned to open “by the end of January,” according to an article in the Dec. 29, 2011, issue of a local newspaper, the VillageSoup Gazette. But that would be impossible, according to state officials.
“That’s not a realistic expectation for a company that hasn’t filed an application. It will take longer than a month,” said Guy Cousins of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse.
According to Cousins, the state’s department that handles licenses is currently understaffed and will take longer than usual to process an application.
As for CRC, it plans to open a clinic in fewer than 180 days — depending on whether the town of Warren allows it to. It filed its application with the town and Warren has until mid-March to give it a thumbs up or down. The company has been battling the town since the fall of 2010 and even sued Warren last September and received a $320,000 settlement. The lawsuit was filed after Warren refused to let the clinic purchase a piece of land from the town. The clinic claimed this was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The battle apparently is not over. Although the Warren Planning Board said the application was mostly complete, the proposed location for the methadone clinic doesn’t meet the town ordinance, according to town manager Grant Watmough. This could potentially send the application back a few steps and take more time.
As it is, the Warren clinic has many more public meetings before CRC can think about renovating a place in town to move into.
The public meeting schedule alone is part of why the Rockland-bound clinic was able to speed through the process. Rockland holds more planning board and council meetings per month than the much smaller town of Warren.
Another reason Colonial moved fast but CRC is slogging through the town-level permitting is because of public outcry. Warren, where CRC wants to go, has had hundreds of people fill their methadone-clinic-related meetings. The town has had to change venues during standing-room-only meetings to make sure everyone who wanted to attend a meeting could without breaking fire codes.
Few, if any, Rockland residents attended the planning board and city council meetings where Colonial’s clinic was discussed. While Warren fights out its first methadone clinic applications, Rockland has experience with the process. Rockland already fought once in a not-too-different battle, and also was sued over an ADA claim. That claim was later dismissed, but it took the Turning Tide clinic at least 18 months to get city approval to move in. It later was closed down by federal drug agents, who deemed it unsafe after its owner was arrested on drug charges. This time, for Colonial, it took three months to get approved by Rockland.
“The first time [we processed a methadone clinic permit] we had a ton of people at some of our meetings — from both sides. This time we had nobody,” said Rockland’s mayor Brian Harden.
To the state, it won’t matter if both clinics open. There are no regulations about how close clinics can be. According to Cousins at the state office of substance abuse, location “is a business decision. The organization has an idea of how many clients they need to see to make that business viable.”
It might actually save the state money to have another clinic. MaineCare pays travel expenses for its clients to get treatment. In Maine, 43 percent of people who take methadone legally get the service through MaineCare. That means in the Rockland area, about 120 people were on MaineCare and they now have to travel about 110 miles round trip to the nearest clinic — six days a week. Only about 100 of those people successfully transitioned into another clinic, according to Cousins.
It’s not clear how many of those people drive themselves to the clinic and file for their 20-cents-per-mile MaineCare gas refund — but if all 100 people did, it would cost the state $2,200 a day. Many patients must go to therapy six days a week.
By having a clinic — or two — in Knox County, those MaineCare claims would shrink.
“There are not enough services for the demand. We are one of the highest states per capita with prescription misuse and addiction. Opiate drugs and heroin and morphine is now the No. 1 reason people are seeking treatment — it has surpassed alcohol for the first time in years, and alcohol isn’t going away,” Cousins said.