Bangor’s Methadone Clinic Battle Heads to Court

     (CN) — Opioid abuse is ravaging New England but a clinic trying to do something about that in Bangor, Maine, says prejudice from the city is stymieing its efforts.
     The Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center brought a federal complaint against the city Wednesday to move forward with a desperately needed expansion.
     One of three methadone clinics in Bangor that serve a total of about 1,500 patients, Penobscot Metro says it is licensed to treat just 300 people but has a waiting list with more than 170 names — and that was as of Aug. 1.
     A facilities expansion completed in March means Penobscot Metro can serve 500 people. The center just needs a permit under Chapter 93 to take in the extra bodies, but it says prevailing fears about addicts won’t give it a chance, despite approval from the state.
     Things came to a head, according to a complaint, at a July 11 meeting of the city council on Penobscot Metro’s application.
     The center says two councilors voiced misplaced concerns that the expanded facilities would attract residents from outside counties.
     “While citizens and city councilors expressed the view that the location or expansion of a methadone clinic in a city causes crime to increase or other negative consequences, no facts or empirical evidence to that effect were presented to the city council,” the complaint states.
     “On the contrary, Penobscot Metro presented evidence to the city council that because methadone treatment helps drug addicts to recover from their addiction and turn around their lives, the location or expansion of a methadone clinic in a city actually causes crime to decrease, and thus does not pose a significant risk to the health or safety of other members of the community.”
     The city council denied Penobscot Metro’s application 7-2 on Aug. 8.
     Now Penobscot Metro wants a federal judge to find that the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
     The complaint quotes five letters Bangor residents sent the council about Penobscot Metro’s application “that demonstrated discriminatory prejudice against recovering drug addicts based on the false premise and stereotype that methadone clinic patients are criminals who disrupt communities where methadone clinics are located.”
     “Why would you want to flood our city with more addicts and the attendant problems that come with them?” one resident wrote.
     Another wrote: “What is the incentive for the hard working people in the community that want to live and work in a safe and prosperous community? Stand UP for us please and say NO [to Penobscot Metro’s expansion]!”
     Penobscot Metro says the city got it wrong in saying Bangor doesn’t need more methadone-treatment slots.
     “Recovering drug addicts who are unable to obtain methadone treatment are at grave risk of returning to illegal drug use and experiencing severe adverse health consequences such as illness, permanent disability, and death,” the complaint states. “Addiction is a life-threatening disease, and recovering addicts deserve compassion and access to treatment.”
     The center estimates that permission for its expansion will let it add up to 16 new patients per month, “and potentially up to 30 new patients per month, until it gets to 500 total patients receiving methadone treatment.”
     Demanding an injunction, damages and reimbursement of its litigation costs, the center is represented by Sigmund Schutz, John Doyle and Holly Lusk of the Portland firm Preti, Flaherty, Believeau and Pachios.
     A spokesperson for Bangor has not returned an emailed request for comment.
     From 2010 to 2014, the Drug Enforcement Agency saw quadruple the number of arrests in Maine related to heroin, according to a report released last year by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Overdose deaths involving heroin or morphine meanwhile increased by 800 percent during the same period.

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