January 24, 2020
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Attorney hopeful Bangor methadone clinic expansion can begin soon

BANGOR, Maine — An attorney representing Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center expressed hope on Monday that city officials will soon allow an expansion of the center’s methadone clinic in Bangor.

Attorney John Doyle of Portland said the city and center are involved in “active discussions with a view toward resolving the lawsuit” filed by Penobscot County Metro. U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock found partly in favor of the center in a preliminary ruling he released earlier this month.

“They are positive discussions, and we are hopeful that we can begin the expansion soon,” Doyle said Monday night after the City Council discussed Woodcock’s decision in executive session for about an hour.

Council Chairman Joe Baldacci wouldn’t comment on whether an expansion would be allowed but did say that he anticipates a resolution in a few weeks.

“We can’t really say anything until it is all finalized,” Baldacci said.

Woodcock issued a preliminary ruling on Nov. 15 in favor of the center, which filed suit in August alleging that a council ordinance violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against drug addicts. The complaint sought to overturn the ordinance, which critics said the council approved as part of an effort to prevent the center’s planned expansion from 300 to 500 patients.

Woodcock described the ordinance as “facially discriminatory.”

But Woodcock stopped short of granting the center its motion for an injunction to the center that would have allowed the expansion to continue. Woodcock found that there are at least 60 open slots at the city’s other two methadone treatment clinics, so patients would not be denied treatment and would not suffer the irreparable harm the law required.

Baldacci, a lawyer, had said in the aftermath Woodcock’s decision that he felt it was possible that the council could tweak the ordinance to make it fair and still ban the clinic expansion.

Baldacci has said the council supports the treatment of addiction but felt that the expansion would overburden Bangor. The city has three methadone treatment centers licensed to serve a total of 1,500 patients, far more than any other state municipality. Only about 20 percent of the patients treated live in Bangor, he has said.

Woodcock’s discrimination ruling, which came in response to Penobscot County Metro’s motion for a preliminary injunction, was based on the ordinance targeting only methadone. Under the ordinance, clinics could dispense Suboxone, another equally legal type of opioid medication, without being in violation, Woodcock wrote.

Dr. Noah Nesin, vice president of medical affairs at Penobscot Community Health Care, gave the council a brief overview of the state’s opioid addiction epidemic during a workshop before the council meeting.

Nesin said the timing of his presentation was coincidental. The presentation was scheduled months before Woodcock’s decision. The doctor said he sympathized with the council’s stance on the expansion and was happy to make the presentation.

“I think people were listening very closely. I know the decisions surrounding this issue are very complex,” Nesin said. “There are no easy answers to any of this.”


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