Faced with mounting opposition from residents and politicians, state health officials are backing away from support of a private Catonsville methadone clinic, a move that could doom the business.
State officials said yesterday that they would wait for a county recommendation before deciding whether to permit the clinic to open, although they approved a permit for it in May.
That could derail the proposal for Jacob's Ladder, which is equipped and ready to open in the 600 block of Old Edmondson Ave.
"People don't want it there," County Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley of Catonsville said after firing off a letter of protest to the state health secretary, Dr. Martin P. Wasserman.
The Catonsville clinic and two other methadone clinics that have been proposed for the county have triggered recent neighborhood protests.
Because of such opposition, state officials announced last week that they would not approve a permit for a private, for-profit clinic proposed in Randallstown. Another, on U.S. 40 in Loreley, near the Harford County line, is awaiting a county zoning hearing.
C. Todd Rosendale, policy chief for the state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, said an epidemic of heroin use, fueled by a much purer and cheaper version of the drug, was increasing the need for treatment clinics.
Despite its approval of Jacob's Ladder, the state will honor a 4-year-old pledge to honor the recommendations of Baltimore County officials on such clinics, Rosendale said. If Wasserman agrees with local opponents that the Catonsville clinic should not operate, the permit could be withdrawn.
"I spent the last couple of days on the telephone, including theweekend," Rosendale said, talking to dozens of residents and elected officials opposed to the clinic.
Clinic operator Rita Antonis said she is upset about the opposition and feels she has been denied the chance to explain the program to the community. She plans to delay opening until she gets that chance at a community meeting being planned.
"I'm really getting kind of aggravated with the whole thing," she said, noting that she followed all the rules under the direction of her lawyer, state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Baltimore County Republican, and depended on the state to notify local officials.
County officials seem to be of one mind on the subject.
"Everything should be put on hold," said County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, until the county can plan for such clinics.
Local zoning laws make no provision for methadone clinics as such, but such clinics are allowed to apply for permits as care facilities or medical offices. Antonis used the latter method.
The County Council requested a review of zoning laws Monday, asked the planning board to recommend a legal definition of methadone clinics that would allow the county to identify appropriate zones for them.
"We have to do it the right way," Ruppersberger said, or risk losing the public's trust in government.
"There's such suspicion about the way things like this come into existence," said Charles Camp, president of the Old Catonsville Neighborhood Association. "It's kind of like dropping it by parachute into a residential neighborhood."
Susan Mohr, manager of the 78-unit Caton House apartments for senior citizens, next to the building in which the clinic hopes to operate, says residents there are upset by the proposal.
"They think it's going to mean increased crime," Mohr said, noting that the building previously housed a program for troubled teens. It produced a flurry of muggings and other problems from the youths who came for counseling, she said, adding, "It was a nightmare."
Antonis calls those fears unfounded.
The clinic's clients "are not allowed to loiter at all," she said, adding that any who do will be dismissed from the program. Security cameras monitor the parking lot, she said.
There is a need for the program, she said, because there are scores of addicts who live in the area and need methadone treatment to stave off their craving for heroin.
Community activists are organizing a public meeting, say Camp and Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Democrat who represents Baltimore County. And opposition is hardening, they add, partly because the state permit was issued without notice to area residents.
"They've blown it already," said Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, a Baltimore County Democrat whose district abuts the clinic site.
"If they want to see community opposition, we'll give it to them."
Pub Date: 7/09/97