BANGOR, Maine — The city having opioid addicts in need of emergency treatment presents “an immediate threat to public health” that will likely compel the City Council to repeal a discriminatory ordinance on Monday, about three weeks ahead of typical timing, officials said Friday.
Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center successfully sued last month for the repeal of the ordinance banning the clinic’s expansion from 300 to 500 patients. The clinic, which had 202 prospective patients on its waiting list as of late November, could get a license to expand from 300 to 500 patients as early as Tuesday, and has a settlement agreement with the city that mandates a Dec. 12 settlement date.
“Additionally, Maine as a whole has a pressing need for additional resources to combat its ongoing opiate epidemic, including the need for more treatment,” the agenda’s executive summary states. “These factors present an immediate threat to the public health and safety, particularly the health of those particular individuals in need of immediate treatment.”
Penobscot Metro’s attorney, John Doyle of Portland, agrees with the council’s reasoning.
“We believe the clinic’s 202 waitlist, the serious and ongoing risk of overdoses and deaths from lack of treatment, and the ongoing and growing opioid epidemic absolutely constitutes an ongoing emergency,” Doyle said in an email on Friday.
“With the repeal and the anticipated issuance of the amended state license authorizing additional slots, the clinic will be able to begin intakes and treatment for those most seriously at risk,” Doyle added.
Normally, an ordinance repeal would take two meetings, for legally required public hearings and first and second readings of any substantial changes to a city ordinance. The council’s next scheduled meeting is Dec. 28. Reasons the council can speed the implementation of an ordinance include threats to public health, among others.
Council Chairman Joe Baldacci has another reason — money. The agreement mandates passage of the repeal on Dec. 12. Without that, the city might be liable, Baldacci said.
Penobscot Metro officials “have alleged that their cost in legal fees is in excess of $1 million,” Baldacci said Friday. “We do not want to run the risk that the taxpayers of Bangor pay any element of that.”
Doyle said the $1 million fee also includes damages and revenues the clinic lost due to its delay in expanding that the city would likely have had to pay if it lost the lawsuit.
U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock found partly in favor of the center, referring to the ordinance as “facially discriminatory,” in a preliminary ruling he released on Nov. 15. 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, August, so patients would not be denied treatment and would not suffer the irreparable harm the law required for the injunction to be granted.
Councilors 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 lawsuit followed. The city argued that Bangor was overburdened with treatment centers and that clinics could be located elsewhere.
A council workshop is set for 5:30 p.m. Full council meetings are held the second and fourth Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m.