BANGOR, Maine — After several meetings and three more rounds of debate Monday night, city councilors voted 6-2 to place certain limits on methadone clinics.
The measure adopted by councilors:
– Limits the number of methadone clinics in Bangor to the existing three.
– Caps each clinic’s patient load to the number of patients they now are licensed to treat.
– Establishes an application process that includes public comment for expanding the number of patients a clinic may treat.
The process allows the city to consider the geographic locations of current and potential patients and “to deny the application if it determines that there is sufficient patient demand to warrant a treatment facility in an area geographically closer to current and potential future patients.”
During a regular meeting at City Hall, a majority of councilors agreed that the three clinics now operating here have plenty of excess capacity. Combined, they are licensed to treat about 1,700 people, but now are only treating about 1,200.
The majority councilors said the lack of clinics in other parts of Maine is forcing some addicts to have to drive hours for their daily doses and that the problem is the state’s to solve.
The two councilors who opposed limits said they did so because they thought it was wrong to take such action in the absence of problems.
Councilors voting in favor of the limits were Chairwoman Susan Hawes, Peter D’Errico, Frank Farrington, Geoffrey Gratwick, Gerry Palmer and Richard Stone. Opposed were Patricia Blanchette and Hal Wheeler.
“I think we’re opening up a problem that does not exist and we’re putting another paper tiger ordinance on our books,” Blanchette said after calling for a roll call vote.
In her argument against the limitations, Blanchette said that city police and other officials have not proven methadone clinics have been a burden on Bangor or its taxpayers.
“There’s no history of [problems with clinics] and I guess I’m having a problem when we’re saying as a city that we do not want people that are ill [coming into Bangor for opiates addiction treatment],” she said.
“I mean, get over the fact that you think these are long-haired, dirty druggies. These are people that have an illness. They’re addicted to opiate drugs that maybe were prescribed by their physician,” she said.
Councilors in support of the limits said the point was to get the state to ensure treatment is available in the communities where addicts reside.
Councilor Gratwick agreed methadone clinics are a valid treatment option for opiate addicts and said he thought the city had gone to great lengths to make sure treatment was available.
He noted, however, that given the number of clinics already here and the excess capacity all three of them have, “there’s no dearth and we’re not turning anyone away for quite some time in the foreseeable future.
“To my way of thinking, this is a way, a step in the path, to having the state show some spine and to ante up and do what the state has to do in terms of regulations that seem to be illegal and inappropriate and plain wrong,” he said. Gratwick’s comments referred to measures enacted in several municipalities that he said have made it difficult, if not impossible, for methadone clinics to operate. Bangor officials believe such measures violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the state has taken no action.
“This is a local concern and treatment should be provided locally,” he said. “You do not have to come to Bangor to see your general practitioner … it seems to me the same should be true for this.”
Farrington said he was comfortable with the limits because there was a mechanism for increasing capacity, if needed. He hoped Bangor’s move would result in the opening of clinics in parts of Maine that are underserved or not served at all.
“I think we’re doing the best thing for the common good,” he said.