Rep. Smith pushes moratorium on new methadone clinics
By Megan Reiter (Staff WRiter)
Published: December 19, 2009
This article comes from The Times-Tribune.com and can be found at http://www.thetimes-tribune.com/news/rep-smith-pushes-moratorium-on-new-methadone-clinics-1.498703
Citing the concerns of some Dunmore constituents, state Rep. Ken Smith is calling for an immediate moratorium on new methadone clinics opening in the state.
Boston-based health care organization Habit OPCO in June began the process of opening a methadone clinic on Monahan Avenue in the Keystone Industrial Park. Since then, Mr. Smith said he has received calls from at least 40 constituents concerned about the clinic opening in Dunmore.
As a result, he is planning to introduce a legislation package that would stop any new methadone clinics from opening in the state "until the completion of a study by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee." Such a report would determine the number of methadone clinics in Pennsylvania and how they affect the communities in which they are located, Mr. Smith said.
"I am in no way trying to be an obstructionist and preventing people from getting help," he said. "Trust me, that is not my mission here. My mission here is to satisfy the concerns (of the public) and make sure that our community is not impacted in any negative way."
The report would look at "crime statistics, local economy, traffic, etc., as well as solutions other states have pursued in attempting to better regulate and monitor these facilities," Mr. Smith said in his letter to fellow representatives asking for support. He is not sure how long such a study would take to complete.
Richard Froncillo, president of the Pennsylvania Association for Treatment of Opioid Dependence, says he knows of four methadone treatment facilities trying to open in the state.
"Oftentimes, there are other treatments available," said Robert Lubran, director, Division of Pharmacologic Therapies for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "But when it comes to heroin and opiate prescription drugs, evidence points to methadone treatment as the most effective treatment."
Mr. Smith said patients currently in methadone clinic recovery would not be affected, and he is not aware of addicts awaiting treatment.
"Wherever they're going now, they can continue to go. ... I never heard of a waiting list. They find a clinic to get to," he said.
Debby Schmidt, Habit OPCO business development director, said the number of residents awaiting treatment "is impossible to generate" because some facilities do not keep waiting lists, or potential patients are hesitant to leave their phone numbers.
"In the absence of treatment, drug use is going to continue," Mr. Lubran said.
Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, questions why a moratorium would be necessary during Mr. Smith's proposed study.
"Can you imagine if we were talking about (a moratorium on) any other form of medicine, outside of treating addiction?" he said.
Mr. Smith also is proposing bills that would prohibit methadone clinics from locating with 500 feet of a school or establishment geared toward children; requiring an individual seeking treatment to undergo random drug testing at least once a week; and requiring methadone patients to be transported to and from a clinic by a driver with a valid Pennsylvania license.
Random drug testing is already required in methadone treatment facilities, said Nicholas Reuter, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration senior public heath analyst.
Earlier attempts at distance restrictions have been challenged and deemed unconstitutional, Ms. Schmidt said. Act 10 of the state Municipalities Planning Code of 1999 included an amendment that prohibited methadone treatment facilities from opening or operating within 500 feet of a school, church or other public facilities. The act was found to be unconstitutional in 2006 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
"You can't discriminate against people who are using a legal substance," said Mr. Froncillo.
Habit OPCO is challenging Dunmore's zoning code, which prohibits a methadone clinic from locating within a half-mile of establishments such as schools and churches.
Dunmore residents have been vocal in their opposition to the clinic during four sessions of a public hearing on the zoning challenge.
When resident Mary Ellen McCafferty presented Mr. Smith's letter at Monday's hearing conclusion, the crowd erupted in applause.
"There's even bipartisan support from the other side of the aisle," Mr. Smith said of his proposed legislation. He said there is a similar bill in the Senate, and he is proposing a joint public hearing bringing "all parties to the table."
As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, Mr. Smith said he could bring the moratorium up for a vote relatively quickly.
"To relax some of the anxiety out there, we could have an immediate impact with the resolution," he said.
Dunmore Borough Council is planning to vote on Habit OPCO's curative amendment - which would basically approve or deny the clinic opening - on Dec. 28. Mr. Smith said a moratorium in effect would take precedence over council's vote.
There were 14,445 clients in methadone opioid treatment programs in the state as of March 30, 2007, according to a National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services report. There are roughly 50 methadone facilities in the state, none of which is in Lackawanna County. The closest is Choices Recovery Program in Plains Twp. Choices is currently at capacity, with 200 patients, and is considering expansion "to meet the growing needs of the community," said Kevin McDonald, Wyoming Valley Health Care System spokesman. He confirmed that Choices, which is part of Behavioral Health Services of Wyoming Valley, does treat Lackawanna County residents, but he did not have an exact number.
Ms. Schmidt estimates that 90 percent of the 250 patients Habit OPCO plans to treat in Dunmore would be Lackawanna County residents.
"I think the difficult thing is that we're going to have too many people come to us at once," she said.
When the Dunmore location reaches capacity, Ms. Schmidt said, "We would not rule out opening a second location in another county that we would determine has a need."
Before any new facility opens, Mr. Smith said that he, like some of his constituents, wants some answers about methadone treatment.
"I am looking for the correct information as to how it impacts communities," he said. "I'm not for, I'm not against. All I want is to get the proper information. And that's my job."
We are not bad people trying to become good, we are sick people trying to become well.
Methadone; A Flicker Of Light In The Dark
We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you cannot afford to call us, send us an email and
we will call you at our expense.
Office: 1-770-334-3655~ Cell: 1-770-527-9119
ALL INFORMATION IS KEPT STRICKLY CONFIDENTIAL