Pubdate: Sat, 17 Jun 2000
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2000, Bangor Daily News Inc.
Contact:  http://www.bangornews.com/
Author: Jeff Tuttle

METHADONE TASK FORCE SCRAPPED

BANGOR  A hotly debated proposal to locate a methadone clinic here
took several turns Friday, ending with the dropping of a proposal to
create a controversial task force to study the issue.

Commissioner Lynn Duby of the Department of Health, Mental Retardation
and Substance Abuse Services announced on Friday the decision to scrap
the proposed 20-member task force in favor of a single public forum to
discuss the treatment of opiate addicts in Bangor.

In what has become an often heated and notably political tug of war,
state officials cited the city's recent objections to the task force's
makeup as an impetus for the decision.

"From my perspective, I simply could not satisfy the city," Kim
Johnson, director of the department's Office of Substance Abuse, said
Friday. "But I think the public forum is a way of giving community
members a chance to hear about treatments for opiate addictions
without all the anxiety."

City officials, who have been vocal opponents of the methadone clinic,
again asked the state to postpone its plans.

"We will continue to urge the state Department of Mental Health,
Acadia Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center to evaluate
alternatives to methadone as a treatment mechanism in light of recent
research and soon to be alternatives," Bangor Mayor Michael Aube said
Friday in a prepared statement. "Further we urge these agencies to not
move forward with their plans ... of establishing a methadone clinic
in Bangor at this time."

The city also has considered petitioning the federal Food and Drug
Administration, the methadone licensing agent, as a means of stopping
the clinic, Aube said.

Acadia Hospital in Bangor, which applied last winter for state
permission to open a clinic, had agreed to put its application on hold
pending the completion of the committee's recommendations, which were
expected to take nine months.

But without the task force, little stands in the way to stop the
clinic.

"I don't think you can ask Acadia to wait if there's going to be no
task force," said Ali Elhaj, the hospital's president. "The community
must demand that as a hospital we are able to provide opiate addicts
with any proven, standard treatment, not treatment based on politics."

Methadone is a synthetic narcotic  a heroin substitute  regulated by
the federal government designed to ward off cravings for the drug.

The Office of Substance Abuse contends the growing number of opiate
and heroin addicts in Greater Bangor has generated the need for a
methadone clinic in the city.

City and law enforcement officials are concerned that the clinic would
draw addicts from around the state to the city, which they say would
likely see an increase in crime as a result.

More than two months ago, the state department suggested the task
force as a means of addressing those concerns, but the department's
proposed roster recently drew fire from the clinic's opponents, who
believed the group was heavy with supporters of the clinic.

U.S. Attorney Jay McCloskey, a vocal opponent of the clinic, said
Friday that he was "puzzled and alarmed" at the cancellation of the
task force, which would have met over nine months in hopes of reaching
a consensus.

"It seems that the state doesn't need a consensus anymore," said
McCloskey, who also criticized the timing of the single, proposed
public forum, set for July. "They're pulling the plug and forcing the
clinic down our throats."

The federal prosecutor also cited recent thefts of methadone in the
area and the increased number of heroin arrests as reasons to try less
addictive methods of kicking heroin and similar opiates.

McCloskey had recently criticized the makeup of the task force, saying
that hospital officials, two of whom were named to the committee,
should not be involved as they stand to benefit financially  in the
form of bonuses  from the clinic's approval.

Acadia is a private nonprofit hospital, and Elhaj said Friday that the
hospital would not experience financial gain, as any revenue is
reinvested into hospital programs.

Further complicating the need for the Bangor clinic is the recent news
that the Discovery House, a Winslow methadone clinic, will, indeed,
remain open. State officials had attempted to close the clinic, which
provides methadone to about 100 addicts a day, citing several rule
violations.

The parties are expected to sign a deal next week that would allow the
clinic to keep its conditional license, according to a state official
and the clinic's attorney.

In approaching Bangor as a site for the new methadone clinic, state
officials had cited the Winslow clinic's imminent closure as a basis
for the Acadia program. The Discovery House's continued operation
would cast significant doubt on whether another clinic should be
placed in Bangor, city officials said.

"That would change everything," Aube said in an earlier interview.
"That was one of the state's major reasons."

On Friday, Johnson of OSA said the Bangor area still needs a methadone
treatment program, despite the Winslow clinic's re-licensing.

"The extent of the problem in Bangor has become more clear to us,"
Johnson said.

"I told [Mayor Aube] that you don't have a methadone problem, you have
a heroin problem," she later added. "I told him methadone is part of
the solution."

State lawmakers also recently sounded off on the issue, with the
Legislature's Committee on Health and Human Services sending a June 15
letter to Gov. Angus King in support of the clinic.

"Committee members believe that the methadone treatment is a necessary
and valuable component of substance abuse treatment," reads the
letter. Local committee members include state Reps. Joseph Brooks,
D-Winterport, Tarren Bragdon, R-Bangor, Daniel Williams, D-Orono and
Edward Dugay, D-Cherryfield.

The political fallout over the methadone-treatment controversy has
state substance abuse officials disheartened.

"It makes for great news," Johnson said Friday. "But it's sad to
politicize what is really a clinical issue."

No specific date has been set for the July public hearing, but
notification will be forthcoming, she said.
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