Residents want health officials to deny methadone licenses

Clinics would be half-mile apart in Pikesville

March 20, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Outraged Pikesville residents are expected to meet with top state health officials today to ask them to deny licenses for two methadone clinics planned a half-mile apart in their community.

Operators of a program called START (Success Through Acceptable Rehabilitative Treatment) have asked the state to grant them a license to open a clinic on the site of an abandoned gas station at 110 Reisterstown Road. A second program, Helping Hand, is seeking state permission to open in a small office building at 116 Slade Ave.

Methadone is a legal narcotic that is used to wean heroin addicts from their addiction by controlling withdrawal symptoms. Yet residents fear the two clinics will attract hundreds of addicts to their neighborhood just over the city line.

"Around the area where this is supposed to be, it's a big residential area," said Reva Bounan, president of the Ralston Community Association. "We don't want it."

A spokesman for the START program said the clinic would operate in a metropolitan region that is home to 60,000 heroin addicts. The office would be run by an experienced clinical director and is not affiliated with any other methadone programs.

"The No. 1 public health crisis in America is substance abuse," said Chip Silverman, a former deputy director of the state Drug Abuse Administration who is serving as a consultant to START. "But nobody ever wants it in their neighborhood."

Joel Prell, operator of Helping Hand, declined to comment yesterday on the proposal. Prell met last week with community leaders and told them that he has had no problems with a methadone clinic that operates next to his Glen Burnie pizza parlor.

Prell wants to open his clinic in a former doctor's office. It would not be affiliated with any other methadone clinics and like START would be run by a clinical director trained in methadone administration.

Residents acknowledge that there is little they can do to stop the for-profit clinic proposals.

County zoning regulations restricting methadone clinics to industrial areas were struck down two years ago by a federal court, which ruled the restrictions were a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The proposed clinics would be in commercial zones, where such uses are permitted.

County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz , a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, said the proposals couldn't have come at a worse time. Over the past few years, the county has spent $2.5 million trying to spruce up sections of Pikesville using various means, including streetscape improvements and business loans.

Three vacant businesses - a former gas station, ice cream store and baked goods outlet - are at Milford Mill and Reisterstown roads, near the proposed site of the Helping Hand program.

Community leaders are angry that the state licensing process for the clinics required no notification of area residents. The groups learned of the proposals through Kamenetz, who heard a rumor and confirmed it with county health officials.

"Unfortunately, it's a free enterprise system between landlords and tenants," Kamenetz said.

Community groups say that lobbying state officials is their only hope of stopping the clinics. They have initiated a letter-writing campaign and sent a petition signed by 1,500 people to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Community group leaders plan to meet today in Baltimore with Health Secretary Dr. Georges Benjamin.

State Sens. Barbara A. Hoffman and Paula C. Hollinger are supporting the community's opposition to the clinics, as is state Del. Robert A. Zirkin.

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