State closes drug clinic

Official says health, safety of community were at risk

`Emergency action' required

180 addicts now must seek treatment elsewhere

Howard County

August 23, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Asserting serious violations that threatened the health and safety of the community, the state has closed a private, for-profit methadone clinic in Howard County, forcing 180 addicts to seek help elsewhere.

State officials said investigations begun this spring showed that the clinic was operated with little supervision and allowed two addicts to take home a month's supply of methadone on their first visit.

State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration Director Peter F. Luongo said violations at the Howard clinic were "so pressing, so urgent" that he had to act, despite what he believes is a growing need for methadone clinics to cope with a mounting heroin problem.

Heroin, he said, "is readily available - and pure enough to snort or smoke, instead of injecting in diluted form.

"There's no declining need" for methadone, which keeps an addict on an even keel and removes the need to commit crimes to finance the habit, Luongo said.

Some critics, however, argue that allowing for-profit clinics to dispense methadone creates a financial incentive to sustain an addict's dependence.

Eugenia Conolly, division director for community prevention and treatment services under Luongo, said the Howard shutdown was the first such action in a dozen years.

New Care Health Services, which operated for three years at 10840 Guilford Road in Annapolis Junction, was ordered closed Aug. 7 by Luongo, who suspended its permit.

The clinic - one of 19 for-profit programs in Maryland - was required to keep supplying addicts enrolled there until they could enroll elsewhere.

The clinic office, in an industrial office park near a trash transfer station, was closed and dark yesterday.

The Howard clinic was operated by the Antonis family - Nicholas, Mary and Rita - who tried but failed to open a similar operation called Jacob's Ladder in Catonsville five years ago.

Baltimore County residents and officials raised a storm of opposition, and county zoning rulings prevented such clinics in residential areas.

Alisa Kobrinetz, an attorney who represented the Antonis family at the state hearing, said she argued that "we cured all the deficiencies you can cure."

She said she was no longer involved in the case.

Members of the Antonis family could not be reached for comment yesterday. Luongo said he expects no appeal of the closure.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey said yesterday he knew nothing about the closed clinic, one of two for-profit methadone outlets in the county.

For-profit clinics charge clients $70 to $80 a week, which pays for the drug, counseling, testing and administration, according to Ray Miller, chief of treatment services under Luongo.

Typically, he said, addicts get their methadone at 5:30 a.m. daily at first, until they stabilize and can take home more doses.

According to a state show-cause order issued July 23, state inspectors found the program's medical director unqualified and said there was no administrator, clinical supervisor or clinical director.

In addition, the program issued a month's supply of methadone to two new clients without creating a treatment plan or verifying their methadone history or the size of their approved doses.

There was also no record of urinalysis.

Random reviews of the files of 30 patients also showed many missing required medical and personal histories, treatment plans and progress reports.

In the order, Luongo said, "the public health, safety and welfare require emergency action."

Although some suburban counties have tried to keep methadone clinics out, forcing addicts to go into Baltimore for the drug, Robey said Howard is trying to beef up drug treatment services, based on a study last year that found the county lacking.

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