A partial victory

Our view: Balto. Co. wins long-running battle to restrict methadone clinics, but the issue of drug addiction remains

May 14, 2010

Baltimore County — and specifically, Councilman Kevin Kamenetz — declared victory in a long-fought legal battle this week over whether a methadone clinic could operate in a residential area just north of the city line in Pikesville. It is a victory in that methadone clinics, just like any other business, are a good fit in some areas and not in others, and it would have been unreasonable if the Americans with Disabilities Act prevented the county or other local governments from exercising any control over where one is located. But it is not a victory in the sense that the county has spent so much effort over the last eight years in deciding where this kind of drug treatment facility can't be, rather than in trying to expand access for the thousands of county residents with substance-abuse problems.

Mr. Kamenetz got into the fight eight years ago, after the Helping Hand clinic and another sought to open within a half-mile of each other, leading to widespread opposition from his constituents who worried about what the effect of a steady stream of recovering drug addicts would have on the community. He successfully pushed for a new zoning law forbidding methadone clinics and other, similar health facilities from locating within 750 feet of a residential area, and the matter has been held up in an endless back and forth of federal court hearings ever since. The announcement Wednesday that the clinic would drop its appeal and agree to move or close within a year has been greeted with cheers from area residents — and no small amount of crowing by Mr. Kamenetz, who happens now to be running for county executive.

In an interview, he likened the restrictions to limiting where pawn shops or pornographic bookstores can be located. Those sorts of businesses, he said, contribute to a self-fulfilling perception that a community is in decline. He's probably right about that. It's also worth noting that two other methadone clinics have opened in the county since Mr. Kamenetz's zoning law was enacted, and they have not sparked community opposition on par with what Helping Hand faced.

But now that the issue of Helping Hand is settled, it's time for Baltimore County leaders to turn a similar amount of attention to ensuring that proper treatment services are available for county residents. Reliable statistics about the number of drug addicts in the Baltimore region are hard to come by, but anecdotal evidence from health professionals and law enforcement officials suggests that the problem is equally spread between the city and the suburbs. Just because the violence and blight associated with the drug trade are concentrated in Baltimore doesn't mean that many of the consumers who fuel it don't live in the counties.

When Helping Hand first opened in 2002, there was only one methadone clinic in Baltimore County, a public-private partnership in an industrial park in Timonium. Officials at the time said there was no unmet need for methadone, a synthetic opiate used to help wean addicts from heroin. Unless Helping Hand is able to find a suitable new location in the county within the next year, there will be three facilities in Baltimore County — the same number as in Carroll County and fewer than there are in Anne Arundel. It's hard to imagine that the need isn't greater. The same goes for residential drug treatment. There are only two options in Baltimore County, both of which are on the Rosewood campus in Owings Mills. Both Anne Arundel and Carroll counties have more options and offer more intensive inpatient treatment.

Drug treatment is not the kind of thing that usually registers in Baltimore County executive races, but it would be a shame if all we ever heard on the topic was about Mr. Kamenetz's zoning law. He and his opponents should make an issue not just of protecting communities from unwanted drug treatment facilities but also of making sure the county is offering the kinds of services its residents need.

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