BANGOR – The proposed location of a methadone clinic planned for the city recently drew fire from its neighbors at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Bangor campus.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Special Committee on Opiate Addiction, the joint panel considered the clinic’s proposed Indiana Avenue location, which had sparked a Nov. 27 letter in opposition from the UMA president.
“Whereas the clients in need of methadone treatment certainly need a place where they can receive medical care, the proposed site between a college campus and a business park hardly seems the correct location,” wrote UMA President Owen Francis Cargol in his letter to City Manager Edward Barrett. “I urge you and the City Council to reject the proposed site for the methadone treatment center and consider a more appropriate alternative location near medical and security facilities.”
The letter, which alluded to the clinics’ reputations as “magnets for drug dealers looking for buyers,” quickly drew return fire from state officials.
“I’m livid,” Kimberly Johnson, director of the state Office of Substance Abuse, said upon learning of the letter. “It concerns me that we have state officials giving mixed messages to the public in this case.”
State substance abuse officials have pointed to a dire need in Bangor for the treatment option considering the region’s serious – and escalating – heroin and opiate addiction problem.
Bangor-based Acadia Hospital, at the request of the Office of Substance Abuse, applied in February to operate the clinic out of the Acadia Recovery Community on the site of the old Dow Air Force base.
Methadone is a synthetic narcotic used to treat those addicted to heroin and other opiates, including prescription painkillers.
With emotions in the community high and the formation of the opiate addiction committee, the Maine Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services agreed to delay the licensing of the Bangor clinic until January 2001.
The debate is now coming to a head with the opiate committee set to issue a set of recommendations to the state agency next week. There was little agreement Tuesday on whether the panel should suggest a different location for the clinic or even a further delay in its opening.
Acadia officials on Tuesday were resistant to both delaying the clinic or opening it anywhere but Acadia Recovery Community, where the hospital already treats those with alcohol and drug problems.
“It would be a shame to not be able to continue the development of that campus as our place to develop out-patient services,” said Lynn Madden, Acadia’s vice president of administrative services. “We’ve been committed to that facility.”
On the site, the location of the former Hope House, Acadia also offers an emergency shelter for those using drugs or alcohol.
Madden, upon hearing of the neighboring university’s dissent, said she didn’t anticipate any additional or significant problems in the area by offering the treatment.
“Acadia has reiterated that the people who need the treatment are already here and many are already using the facility,” she said before Tuesday’s meeting. “We do not anticipate a host of problems adding this treatment modality.”
Cargol was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for further comment.
As far as a possible delay, City Councilor Joseph Baldacci suggested that the committee recommend a one-year moratorium. He said Acadia could use the time to implement the committee’s recommendations to help ensure a successful facility.
“I would like to see law enforcement and education eradicate the problem, but keep Acadia’s planning going,” Baldacci said. “I think it’s a reasonable request to help us realize some of the goals we’ve talked about.”
“The bottom line is that it’s not fair to hold these people hostage any longer,” Madden replied, referring to the addicts in need of the treatment. “I think we have had a pretty fair implementation delay already.”
The committee will meet again at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12.