Neighbors say no to drug clinics 'I feel like it's legalized dealing'

February 26, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Urged on by Baltimore County drug czar Mike Gimbel, 60 Rosedale residents vowed last night to block the planned opening of two private, profit-making methadone clinics in their midst.

"I feel like it's legalized drug dealing," Mr. Gimbel, director of the county's Office of Substance Abuse, told Rosedale Community Association members, adding that the clinics likely would draw addicts to the area. He told the crowd the clinics would be only two blocks apart, which he called "absolutely ridiculous."

Local governments have no say in approving the private clinics. They can locate in any area zoned for retail business. To open, owners must get approval from the two federal agencies, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as from the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Administration (MADA).

"That's all we need, is those drug addicts running around the neighborhood," one resident muttered.

Another resident, Raymond Shiflet, said, "This is like a saloon on every corner."

And resident Mary Hersl worried that addicts seeking money for methadone would rob residents at nearby shopping malls.

Mr. Gimbel, joined by Councilman William A. Howard IV, R-6th, and Dundalk Del. Louis DePazzo, D-7th, urged residents to begin a lobbying campaign to get state Health Secretary Nelson Sabatini, who controls MADA, to refuse approval for the two centers. Mr. Gimbel said the county's own nonprofit clinic in Timonium fully serves the need for those certified for treatment.

Two companies, Open ARMMS Inc. of Landover in Prince George's County and Metwork of Eldersburg in Carroll County, are planning to open branches in Rosedale. Still a third concern -- headed by pharmacist James E. Hodges, a former state drug-abuse worker -- is planned for the York Road corridor near Towson, if the state and federal approvals can be obtained.

The potential hazards of privately run, for-profit methadone clinics were portrayed Sunday on CBS televison's "60 Minutes" show. The show featured an addict who demonstrated how easily he could enroll at several of the private clinics simultaneously, getting extra drugs to take home, and how he could buy methadone on the street that had been sold to other addicts.

Martin Kaplan, owner of Maryland's oldest clinic, Metwork, said the show focused only on several poorly run clinics in Houston, Texas, and ignored hundreds nationally that work well.

Methadone is a synthetic substitute for heroin that satisfies an addict's craving for drugs, but allows him to function. Using methadone, Mr. Kaplan said, addicts who would otherwise be stealing and dying of AIDS can function normally, holding jobs, paying taxes and, eventually, weaning themselves from drugs.

Mr. Gimbel, himself a former heroin and methadone abuser, said addicts should not remain on methadone for more than 18 months. Staying on the highly addictive synthetic drug for 20 years, as some addicts do, is "ridiculous," he said.

Critics of the private clinics maintain that the operators' only incentive is the profit involved in selling methadone, so they have a stake in keeping addicts on the drug, rather than weaning them from it.

Five private, profit-making methadone clinics have opened in Maryland over the past four years, the last opening in Columbia only two weeks ago. The others are in Baltimore, Eldersburg and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

In addition to the branch he hopes to open in Rosedale, Mr. Kaplan has said he plans a clinic for Laurel. His Metwork clinic in Carroll County is the oldest in the state.

Addicts who get methadone from private clinics pay from $60 to $70 per week, compared with the $11.60 to $58 that addicts pay on a sliding scale at Awakenings, the nonprofit county-sponsored clinic in Timonium, where 175 of the county's 586 registered methadone users get their drugs.

All 175 of those people live in Eastern Baltimore County. Despite that, Dundalk residents and politicians angrily forced the county in 1989 to remove an Awakenings branch from a Dundalk shopping center shortly after it opened.

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