Operator of drug clinic to appeal closing

She describes shutdown as unwarranted, adding, `The state has hounded us'

August 27, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The operator of a Howard County methadone clinic ordered closed by the state says the action was unwarranted and she will fight the order with an appeal.

Rita Antonis, operator of the New Care Health Services in the Dorsey Run Business Center on Guilford Road in Annapolis Junction, said the state's allegations against her center are unfounded.

"The state has hounded us repeatedly since we tried to open Jacob's Ladder," Antonis said about a for-profit clinic her family attempted to open in Catonsville five years ago.

Opposition from nearby residents and Baltimore County officials led the state to rescind a preliminary permit the clinic had been given. Baltimore County has used zoning laws to try to keep private, for-profit methadone clinics out of residential areas.

Antonis said the most serious state charge - that her Howard clinic gave two heroin addicts a month's supply of methadone on their first visit without having proper treatment information - ignored important facts.

"Those two people were in treatment for six years and had no dirty urine for six years, so they were eligible," she said. "We've done everything but roll over for them" she said of state officials, who, she said, called her operation "a model clinic" when it was recertified in December.

"When you're dealing with the state, it's a one-sided story," she said.

For the appeal, she has retained an attorney who represented the family in Baltimore County - former state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer.

Peter F. Luongo, director of the state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, said, "She's entitled to her perspective. The facts stand very well on their own."

Methadone is a synthetic, addictive substitute for heroin that stabilizes an addict and removes the pressure to commit crimes to finance the habit. Luongo said last week that heroin in ever purer forms is "readily available," increasing the need for methadone.

The 3-year-old clinic is in an industrial area in the far southeastern corner of the county, near the Anne Arundel County line.

Luongo said last week that he was compelled to suspend the clinic's permit, forcing up to 180 addicts to find new sources of methadone, though the clinic may dispense methadone to those who have not enrolled elsewhere. Yesterday, clinic employees said they are treating up to 100 addicts, though state officials said last week that all the clients had found new programs.

Based on an investigation this spring, Luongo said the clinic was operating without proper supervision, and that the violations were "so pressing, so urgent" that he suspended the permit after a hearing Aug. 7.

State officials said the clinic's medical director was unqualified, and said the clinic had no administrator, clinical supervisor or clinical director. In addition, the state charged that the two new clients given a month's supply of methadone had no new treatment plan, and the clinic failed to verify their treatment history or the size of their approved doses.

A number of files examined by state inspectors were missing records of urinalysis tests and other required documents, the state charges said.

Antonis said she was in the process of hiring a clinical and medical director when the state suspended the permit. And she said paper deficiencies in files can be found in any program, but she has "never heard of a clinic being forced to close on [missing] records."

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