A victory in Warren, Maine for CRC Health Group is a victory for methadone clinics seeking sites across the country. It also means that a community that was staunchly opposed to a methadone clinic will have the chance to see how an opioid treatment program (OTP) can operate as a good neighbor. After a yearlong battle, the town voted to settle a lawsuit filed by the Cupertino, California-based treatment program—and to grant permits and approvals for an OTP there.
The lawsuit also asked the town for $320,000. In September, the town voted to settle the lawsuit for what ended up being only $1—and for the right to operate a methadone clinic. The town’s insurer paid the remainder of the $320,000 to CRC.
Ever since Turning Tide, a methadone clinic in nearby Rockland, was shut down by the Drug Enforcement Administration during the summer of 2010, that area of Maine has been without needed help for people with active addiction to opioids, now a serious epidemic in the state. CRC Health Group tried to open a program in Warren, which is near Rockland, but the town of Warren issued a moratorium on methadone clinics, to block CRC and any others from opening an OTP there.
This was a classic NIMBY (not in my backyard) response, one based on “emotions,” explained Jerry Rhodes, Chief Operating Officer of CRC and past president of its recovery division, speaking to AT Forum in October. But CRC filed suit and won. The company sued based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bans discrimination based on disabilities; addiction is a disability.
Over the course of the past year, CRC officials explained to the town that most of the patients in the OTP would be addicted to prescription drugs and not using needles, and gave scientific presentations on how effective methadone is. The town dug in its heels all through late last year and early this year. CRC’s lawyer wrote a letter to the town last winter warning that if the town did not reinstate the building permit previously given to its methadone program there, and repeal the moratorium, there would be “immense liability” to the town.
One Day of Mediation
“We had to file suit against the city, unfortunately,” Mr. Rhodes said. The resolution came about through mediation. “They came to realize that we were right.” The mediation process did not take a long time, but it was “fairly intense.”
At the August 31 mediation, the town learned that it could be facing two years of costly time in court, and that it would probably lose its case.
In the case of Warren in particular, “it didn’t seem as if they were well-advised, or had thought this out,” Mr. Rhodes commented.
The field needs to work harder to educate people about medication-assisted treatment, Mr. Rhodes said. “I’ve done this for a long time, and many people have an emotional, almost visceral, reaction. They don’t have a good understanding of the basis of addiction. People clearly aren’t aware of the gravity of the problems in their own community.”
When people in Maine read the many news stories about the epidemic of prescription opioid abuse in the state, they are somehow not connecting this to the communities they live in. People also need to realize that installing a clinic that provides services for opioid abusers “can be a positive thing for the area,” Mr. Rhodes explained. “Treatment programs reduce crime and help people improve their lives.”
The coming days and weeks will be spent on integrating the clinic into the community, in preparation for the actual opening, said Mr. Rhodes. “I’m not expecting we’ll see any overt negative reaction. Things tend to settle down, and they will realize we’re not the problem they anticipated.”
More NIMBY News
Meanwhile, in Berwyn, Illinois, the Buonauro Clinic is seeking to open a new facility (one already exists in Evanston). Just as in Warren, Maine, the permit was initially granted, and then rescinded after community protests; voters then voted to ban methadone clinics in certain areas. The owners sued the city, claiming it violated the ADA. The lawsuit is seeking $1 million in damages and issuance of a business license.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago by clinic owners Elizabeth Buonauro and Sal R. Sotille.
Evidence was presented at trial in October, with more information to go to the judge over the course of the next couple of months, and a ruling is expected in January.