November 18, 2019

Voters to consider methadone clinic issue

BANGOR – Voters citywide will be asked Tuesday to weigh in on a methadone clinic planned for the city.

The following question will appear on the back of the local ballot: “Shall the following Resolve Entitled ‘Establishment of a Methadone Clinic in the City of Bangor’ be adopted?

“Be it Resolved, that the City Council of the City of Bangor, on behalf of the citizens of Bangor, shall request that the State of Maine and Acadia Hospital agree not to establish a methadone clinic in the City of Bangor until local law enforcement has been given sufficient time to address the issue of opiate addiction through enforcement actions and education; until a coordinated state policy on opiate addiction treatment is in place; and until all questions which have been raised about the presence and operation of such a clinic in Bangor are fully addressed and answered.”

A yes vote is a vote against the immediate establishment of the clinic until other efforts are made. Some voters may construe a no vote as a vote for the clinic.

The referendum question is a mouthful, for sure, many say, and not quite the simple, up-or-down vote some wanted on the ballot.

But city officials, concerned with the appearance of circumventing the mission of its Special Committee on Opiate Addiction, opted for the more roundabout question.

“It’s really the only way for giving all the people a say about having a methadone clinic in their town,” said City Councilor Patricia Blanchette, who sponsored the measure before the council. “We as a council will have a clearer sense, and Acadia will have a clearer sense of what the people want.”

While the voters will have spoken, the vote itself has no binding effect on what is ultimately a state and federal decision to locate a methadone clinic in a community.

Acadia Hospital in February applied to the Office of Substance Abuse to operate a methadone clinic out of the hospital’s Indiana Avenue facility.

The proposal has since sparked a heated debate in the community.

Methadone proponents back the drug as a proven treatment for heroin and opiate addiction, while opponents peg the clinic as a magnet for crime.

Clif Eames, a member of the Acadia Hospital board of directors, said at last week’s meeting of the special committee that he considered a yes vote on the complex question a show of support for the committee’s mission, and not necessarily a rejection of the methadone clinic.

The committee was formed in August to study the area’s opiate addiction problem and issue a report to state officials by Dec. 15. With the establishment of the committee, state officials agreed to postpone the clinic’s licensing until January.

The panel, comprising three members each from the City Council and Acadia Hospital, has met several times in recent months, listening to expert testimony on opiate treatment and the potential effect a clinic could have on a community.

Charles Murray, a Bangor resident who petitioned the council to put the matter to referendum, said that despite the convoluted language, city and hospital officials should consider Tuesday’s vote a straight up-or-down on the clinic. In Murray’s assessment, a yes vote would be against the clinic, while a no vote would support it.

“This is to give the people a chance to say if they don’t want [the clinic], and to say it in the voting booth without fear of intimidation,” Murray said.

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