BANGOR, Maine — A local methadone treatment center will be allowed to expand to serve an additional 200 patients and the city will repeal an ordinance regulating such clinics under a lawsuit settlement announced Friday.
Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center and city officials have worked on the settlement since U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock found partly in favor of the center, referring to the ordinance as discriminatory, in a preliminary ruling he released on Nov. 15.
The agreement states that the center will drop the lawsuit in exchange for the repeal. The City Council, which must vote for the repeal, meets on Monday, Dec. 12.
The center, which serves as many as 300 patients, might begin treating new patients the next day, said its attorney, John Doyle of Portland.
The center lacks only an update of its state permit, and clinic officials have been working on that all week, Doyle said.
“All along, my client’s primary goal was to begin treatment as soon as possible,” Doyle said Friday, “and they are pleased this agreement will finally let that happen.”
Council Chairman Joe Baldacci, who opposed the expansion, said he is “pleased that this can be resolved amicably.” He declined to comment further.
Under the deal, neither side will pursue the other for legal expenses. If the council rejects the repeal, the city could be liable for damages and court costs, according to a brief statement issued by Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas on Friday. Doyle declined to say what those costs would be.
“The city will continue to work to ensure that there is adequate treatment in Bangor and Maine, and to work toward solutions that best serve individuals suffering from addiction as well as their families,” Nicklas’ statement said.
“Finally, the city will offer its assistance to work with the state toward a more decentralized treatment system, one that allows those suffering from the disease of addiction to find robust treatment options that are compassionately offered in locations that are accessible to all,” the statement said.
The City Council voted 7-2 to deny the expansion request in August indicating that the center had failed to demonstrate the need for it as required under the ordinance.
Within days, the center filed suit alleging that the city ordinance violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against drug addicts. The complaint sought an injunction to allow it to immediately expand from 300 to 500 patients.
In his ruling, Woodcock described the ordinance as “facially discriminatory.”
But he stopped short of granting the center its motion for an injunction. Woodcock found that there were at least 60 open slots at the city’s other two methadone treatment clinics at the time, so patients would not be denied treatment and would not suffer the irreparable harm the law required for the injunction to be granted.
More recently, the center’s attorney has said that the city’s three treatment clinics had waiting lists of a few hundred patients.
City Councilor Daniel Tremble, a recent electee who was not on the council during the August vote, said he was “still frustrated that Bangor is the sole treatment center location for northern Maine.”
Councilors had argued that with three treatment centers, the city was bearing an unfair burden.