Pikesville clinic is fined $10,800

Initial operating date of methadone facility at issue

June 18 hearing set

May 31, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

In the latest development in a two-month neighborhood battle, Baltimore County code enforcement officials have assessed $10,800 in fines against the owner of a new Pikesville methadone clinic who they say is operating illegally.

An administrative hearing is set for June 18 for Helping Hand Inc. and its owner, Joel Prell, who contends that his clinic at 116 Slade Ave. opened one day before a county law banning such facilities in residential zones took effect.

Neighbors claim Helping Hand and another clinic planned nearby are bad for the community.

In March, the two clinics announced that they intended to open within a half-mile of one another on the Reisterstown Road corridor, just north of the city line.

One of the clinics, Success Through Acceptable Rehabilitative Treatment, or START, was stopped from opening at 110 Reisterstown Road when Baltimore County rescinded its permit March 21 because of insufficient parking.

At the same time, County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz introduced legislation to ban such clinics within 750 feet of a residence. The bill was passed by the council at their 7 p.m. meeting April 15 and signed into law by County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger on April 16.

Prell says he opened his clinic on the afternoon of April 15 after receiving county zoning and state Office of Health Care Quality approvals, beating the new law by a day.

"We feel as though we were operating that day and that we were not in violation of that bill," Prell said.

As for the fines, Prell said he expected them.

"I kind of knew it was going to happen," Prell said. "The word `operational' is subject to interpretation."

Since opening the facility, Prell said he has been soliciting business from other methadone clinics and United Way.

County officials contend that Prell received no clients before the law took effect and therefore wasn't operating. Prell faces a fine of $200 for each day the clinic, housed in an office building, remains open in alleged violation of county law.

"We have some questions as to whether they were in operation," said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat. "I called the office that day and got a voice mail saying that they were closed for the day."

Although he did not dispense methadone that day, Prell said, he spoke with prospective clients. The clinic is open from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Mondays through Fridays and 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Saturdays. Prell charges a one time fee of $30 and $60 per week for treatment.

Methadone is a legal narcotic that is administered to recovering heroin addicts to minimize their withdrawal symptoms.

Two years ago, a U.S. District judge ruled that a Baltimore County zoning law restricting methadone clinic locations violated the Americans With Disabilities Act because it regulated the clinics more strictly than other treatment facilities.

Kamenetz says his legislation should avoid court scrutiny because it also applies to facilities such as state-licensed drug and alcohol treatment centers, and dialysis, outpatient surgical, endoscopy and birthing centers.

Chip Silverman, the former director of the state Drug Abuse Administration and a consultant for START, said the new law has the same intent as the one struck down by the courts.

"All this was about is keeping substance abuse treatment centers out of Baltimore County and Pikesville," Silverman said.

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