Pubdate: Wed, 06 Jun 2001
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: Mark Shanahan


Discovery House, which dispenses methadone in South Portland, is 
considering opening a clinic in Portland's Bayside neighborhood to treat 
the region's growing number of heroin addicts and opiate abusers.

It's the second such facility proposed for Portland in recent weeks, and 
the third for Greater Portland.

Earlier this spring, state substance-abuse officials announced their 
intention to open a nonprofit methadone clinic somewhere in Portland. A 
Chicago-based agency called the Center for Addictive Problems also is 
talking about opening a methadone clinic. It is looking at sites in Westbrook.

Discovery House's plan will be discussed by the city's Health and Human 
Services Committee today at 5 p.m.

"Our intention is to expand into downtown Portland," said John Destefano, 
program director at Discovery House. "So we want to provide city officials 
with information about who we are and why we're doing this."

The city would have no role in reviewing or approving the clinic, other 
than ensuring it complies with zoning regulations. It's possible, however, 
that the City Council could amend the existing zoning, or approve a special 
ordinance, to prohibit such facilities in residential neighborhoods.

Methadone is a synthetic narcotic that suppresses an addict's craving for 
drugs for as long as 24 hours. City officials are generally supportive of 
methadone as a treatment option, but they want any clinic to offer a broad 
range of services. A "drive-thru" operation that lacks counseling or 
inpatient services likely would meet with resistance.

"Comprehensive methadone services that have a counseling component and 
focus on affordability and access to inpatient beds, those are the premier 
programs," said Gerald R. Cayer, Portland's director of health and human 

The state envisions a full-service, nonprofit clinic that would include 
inpatient and outpatient programs, counseling services and a "12-step" 
aspect. The state will solicit proposals through the end of the month, and 
award a $100,000 contract sometime after that.

State officials said the facility is needed because more and more people in 
Cumberland and York counties are getting hooked on heroin and prescription 
painkillers, especially OxyContin.

There are now two methadone clinics in Maine, in South Portland and 
Winslow. A third is about to open at Acadia Hospital in Bangor and a fourth 
is being considered in Machias.

Methadone is viewed by many experts as the most effective way to treat 
heroin and painkiller addiction. It has proven to be a viable treatment 
method for nearly 30 years.

State officials say 474 people in Cumberland County were treated last year 
for heroin or opiate abuse. That's nearly twice the number of people 
treated five years ago. In York County, 136 addicts were seen in hospitals 
or detoxification facilities in 2000, compared with 49 in 1995.

Discovery House, which has been dispensing methadone since 1994, serves 
about 500 people. It does not have an inpatient component, but does offer 
individual and group counseling.

Destefano said Bayside is the ideal location for a clinic because it's the 
social-service hub of southern Maine. He said he's looking at possible 
sites and has no timetable.

Residents of the neighborhood said Tuesday that they want to know more 
about the proposed clinic before taking a position.

"I have no impressions yet," said Sandra Elder, president of the Bayside 
Neighborhood Association. "We don't know if this is a service that people 
who live here need, or if it's just bringing another issue into the 

Janet Panissidi, who has been going to Discovery House almost since it 
opened, said the neighborhood has nothing to worry about. She said the 
majority of methadone users have jobs and families.

"For the most part, patients are in and out in five minutes," said 
Panissidi, who lives in Wiscasset and has been on methadone for 23 years. 
"Nobody hangs around. That's just a stereotype and, unfortunately, it's 
going to remain until the public gets a little more educated."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart