BANGOR, Maine — The City Council voted 7-0 to rescind an ordinance on Monday in compliance with a lawsuit settlement and to allow the treatment of an additional 200 opioid addicts at a local methadone clinic.
The council’s vote came without discussion. Chairman Joe Baldacci and Councilor David Nealley were absent. Councilors also waived readings of the ordinance change to allow them to comply with the agreement with Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center by Monday night.
The center’s attorney, John Doyle, said the center could get its license to expand treatment from 300 to 500 clients as early as Tuesday. He said that the first half-dozen patients will likely begin treatment on Wednesday, once they have physicals, with another half-dozen beginning treatment by Friday. Penobscot County Metro is grateful for the council’s quick action, Doyle said.
“It has always been about getting the treatment going,” Doyle said after the council vote.
Before the vote, Bangor resident Tyson Cartright told councilors that the city’s methadone clinics should be moved from business districts and placed nearer to medical facilities.
“There is a seedy element of crime that has made its way into Bangor. Part of that is being worsened by having so many clinics in the same area,” Cartright said during Monday’s meeting.
Cartright added that “it doesn’t make sense to concentrate everything where everybody is. If those people have needs, put them near hospitals” where their needs can be met.
Penobscot County Metro successfully sued for the repeal of the ordinance banning the clinic’s expansion. The clinic, which had 209 prospective patients on its waiting list as of Monday, has a settlement agreement with the city that mandates a Dec. 12 settlement date.
Doyle has said the lawsuit could have cost the city more than $1 million, an estimate that includes damages, legal fees and revenues the clinic lost because of its delay in expanding.
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 in 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.
City officials argued that Bangor was overburdened with treatment centers and that clinics could be located elsewhere.