Private methadone clinic backer won't quit Building's owner refuses to lease BALTIMORE COUNTY

February 24, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

A Baltimore pharmacist's bid to locate a private methadone treatment center in the 6300 block of York Road was derailed yesterday, but James E. Hodges said he will look elsewhere.

"We're not going to give up," said Mr. Hodges, a church pastor and former state drug abuse official. The landlord for the auto service building in which he wanted to lease space refused yesterday to rent to an addiction program.

Mr. Hodges said his clinic would be different from other private, profit-making methadone clinics being planned for Baltimore County because he envisions it as a "charitable program" to help addicts, not a money-making venture. He will run it on contributions and with help from his North East A.M.E. church and other churches, he said.

Meanwhile, Martin Kaplan, owner of the oldest of Maryland's five private, profit-making methadone clinics, defended the operations against critics who say they're difficult to police and have no incentive to wean clients from the drug.

He said said his company, Metwork, has been selling the heroin substitute to 160 addicts in the Carroll County community of Eldersburg for over three years with no problems. "Most people don't even know we're here," he said.

Mr. Kaplan said the portrayal of private, profit-making methadone clinics on CBS television's "60 Minutes" Sunday night was misleading because it focused only on several poorly run clinics in Houston.

In the show, a former addict simultaneously enrolled in three programs and obtained several weeks' worth of methadone. He also illegally bought a bottle of the drug on the street as cameras rolled.

"In Maryland it's not like Houston," Mr. Kaplan said, arguing that his clients may not take methadone home until they have proven themselves "clean" of heroin through urinalysis over a 30- to 90-day period.

He also argued that Maryland addicts are prevented from registering at multiple programs by a state computer system that tracks enrollees. He said state health officials inspect his clinic regularly, go over his books, and would close him down if abuses turned up.

But state drug abuse officials said the computer program Mr. Kaplan cited will not automatically target those abusing the system. It has that capability, but only if a specific computer search is launched. Bill Risinko, chief of Management Information Services for the agency, said that has only been done once.

Sharon Dow, chief of planning and policy review for the agency, said the state has one inspector, who makes bi-monthly visits to the state's five private methadone clinics. The inspector also visits new clinics before they open.

A federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent also inspects all methadone clinics, public or private, every three years, a spokesman said.

Michael Gimbel, director of Baltimore County's Office of Substance Abuse, said he was asking state drug abuse officials to give local governments and the public some say in approving private methadone clinics.

Although he advocates drug treatment, Mr. Gimbel said there is too much potential for abuse in profit-making methadone clinics, which are gaining popularity in Maryland. Two private, profit-making clinics are hoping to open new branches in Rosedale, in eastern Baltimore County, if they can win approval from federal and state authorities.

Mr. Kaplan said he hopes to open one of them on Philadelphia Road. A Landover-based company called Open ARMMS Inc. is planning to open the other in the Pulaski Industrial Park.

Mr. Kaplan said methadone treatment is much misunderstood by the public. He argued that the synthetic drug allows addicts to function, hold jobs and straighten out their lives, preventing many of the burglaries and other crimes addicts commit to finance their habits.

Critics have also charged that private firms charge addicts too much for methadone. Mr. Kaplan said his program charges $63 a week for the drug, and the counseling and urinalysis that go with it.

The county's non-profit, government-subsidized methadone program in Timonium charges $11.60 to $58 a week.

That program serves 294 of the county's 586 addicts, said Thomas J. Penn, the director. The rest get their methadone at city and other county clinics closer to their jobs.

Mr. Kaplan argued that the private programs also allow some addicts to get methadone without paying if they can't afford it.

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