Limits sought on methadone clinic locations

Rakes opposes a law, pushes voluntary effort

`Legislation ... a second choice'

Lawmakers may draft statewide regulations

Howard County

April 15, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Instead of writing a restrictive new law, Howard County Councilman David A. Rakes wants to try an informal, voluntary approach to steer private methadone clinics to locations that won't spark neighborhood uproars, he said yesterday.

"Legislation would be a second choice right now," Rakes said before meeting with two local state legislators who plan to explore drafting a statewide regulatory bill in January.

Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, and council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said they agree with Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat, that a new county law is not a good idea.

Attempts to keep clinics at least 1,000 feet from homes, schools or churches foundered this year on the legal shoals of federal anti-discrimination laws. That sent Rakes, Sen. Sandra B. Schrader and Del. Neil F. Quinter back to the drawing board.

Quinter said he hopes to have a bill that could restrict the location of clinics defined as a "significant risk to the community."

The problem, some community officials say, is that voluntary incentives cannot guarantee that methadone clinics won't come unannounced - bringing hundreds of addicts near homes and schools every day.

"What we're trying to find is a solution that treats recovering addicts with the care and dignity they deserve while at the same time responding to community concerns," said Bill Woodcock, a member of the Oakland Mills Village Board, who attended a meeting Rakes held on the issue Tuesday night in the council's Ellicott City chambers.

Ruth Cargo, a 26-year Oakland Mills resident who recently took in a recovering 18-year-old heroin addict for eight months, suggested the county create a campus for health and social service agencies within an industrial park for government and private groups.

"I really do believe my neighbors when they say they support drug treatment. I do believe we can get to win-win where we respect everybody in the community. They are us," Cargo said of addicts.

Emotional response

Attempts by two for-profit clinic operators to open in Oakland Mills and Elkridge last summer sparked furors marked by emotional meetings at which residents decried the idea and threatened to picket. Neither clinic opened.

But Rakes and community members said this is not a simple issue of "Not In My Back Yard."

"We want to facilitate these places because obviously there's a huge problem out there. Maybe we can make a model for the entire state," Rakes said. He hopes to compile a list of up to 25 appropriate locations for methadone clinics that operators can obtain from the county Health Department, along with advice and guidance.

The county health officer, Dr. Penny Borenstein, who attended Rakes' meeting, said there are 7,000 to 13,000 addicts in Howard County, and many who get treatment go outside the county. Howard has one methadone clinic, on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City.

Borenstein said she would be willing to work with Rakes, but she suggested that a new pill called buprenorphine that physicians can prescribe from any regular medical office could ease the clinic problem in several years.

The drug "has a better record of people being able to wean themselves off it," she said, agreeing that "that's the direction we need to be working - to create more avenues of availability." Federal licensing rules prevent any one doctor from prescribing the drug to more than 30 patients at one time.

But Barbara Russell, the Columbia Council representative for Oakland Mills, said, "We're still worried about the same thing. Is some other operator going to come in and try to locate in Oakland Mills?"

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