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Philadelphia goes to the mattresses against methadone clinics

Over the last couple of years certain members of City Council have had an ongoing issues with the proprietors of the 14 methadone clinics that are around the city although most of them can be found in the bowels of North and Southwest Philadelphia.

The Goldman Clinic. A methadone clinic.
The Goldman Clinic. A methadone clinic.
Methadone the treatment for heroin addiction.

The most recent issue involves the neighbors, City Councilman Bobby Henon and City Councilman Denny O’Brien, who represent Northeast Philadelphia, against a clinic that wants to open on Frankford Avenue in the Holmesburg section of the city.

The most recent fracas began a couple of years ago when The Healing Way wanted to open a clinic at Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street because people believed that the clinic would bring drug trafficking as well as other illegal activities to the area. In fact the owners of the clinic obtained a lease five years ago and have been renovating the property.

Probably the biggest bone of contention is that the clinic is a for-profit business and not necessarily going to be under the control of state agencies or so people have been led to believe. Neighbors are convinced that it will be dispensing a drug without a medical license. The clinic itself won’t need a license, but there will have to be a doctor as well as registered nurses on hand to dispense this drug. They are the ones who will have licenses.

That particular area of Frankford Avenue has been having problems with crime steadily increasing over the years and can’t really blame a methadone clinic that hasn’t opened yet for any of it. They have also had, for years, people who had been released from the county jails (PICC, the now-closed Holmesburg Prison, House of Corrections, Curran-Fromhold and the Detention Center) not because they were innocent or were finally able to make bail, but because of the over-crowding at the jails. Many of them walk either up Torresdale Avenue or Frankford Avenue to get on a SEPTA bus or trolley bound for the Frankford Terminal or they just walk to the Frankford Terminal. Along the way they commit crimes and buy drugs.

The neighborhoods on both sides of Frankford Avenue have been experiencing residential properties losing some value not because of a methadone clinic that isn’t there yet, but because of the influx of homes becoming Section 8 housing and people outside of the state purchasing homes then renting them to anyone who can pay the rent. This isn’t just a Northeast Philly problem, but a city-wide problem.

However both Henon and O’Neill are aware of the problems with Section 8 residents as well as those who rent from absentee landlords. They are also aware of neighbors’ complaints that they’re ruining the neighborhood. The two council members are aware that people are moving out of the neighborhoods because of these residents. Neither one of them seem too serious about tackling this problem probably because a methadone clinic opening up and crazed drug addicts running the streets make better press.

It also increases their chances of re-election if they would happen to be successful at shutting down the clinic. If Henon and O’Neill fail they would get re-elected anyway based on their efforts and regarded as some kind of saints. This is a win-win situation for both of them.

Now back to the issue of methadone.

There are several clinics that operate in the city who are responsible businesses as well as good neighbors. They have adequate security and run a tight ship; no client is allowed to loiter in front of the clinic, any surrounding businesses or residential properties. These clinics have cameras outside and can monitor all activity. And they do. If a client has to be told more than once not to hang around they are discharged.

These clinics also maintain good communication with the other people in the neighborhood and always respond to the complaints.

After the ruckus about the proposed clinic on Frankford Avenue hit the papers neighbors around a clinic that’s located at 8 and Girard also had something to say about what was going on in their neck of the woods. Naturally they blamed the clinic.

The residents in that area claim that there is a doughnut shop across the street from the clinic that openly peddles drugs both inside the shop and outside the shop. Well that’s not entirely true.

The doughnut shop is a block away from the methadone clinic and has been there peddling drugs long before the clinic opened. Everyone in that neighborhood knows this. Due to the type of neighborhood that it is drugs and crime were there long before the clinic was there.

The doughnut shop has always operating in this fashion even with a heavy police presence that was around. Shops, stores and banks closed down years ago because of the problems that infested the area; that they were always getting robbed, etc. This all happened before there was a clinic.

A couple of blocks away at 10 and Girard is a Rite Aid that is always being robbed at gun point. A couple of years ago a manager was shot and killed. There wasn’t any crying out about the violence or drug peddling back then.

Girard Avenue from 4 Street up to Lancaster Avenue has always been a high crime area. Until neighbors and business owners actually start working together to fix the problems it will remain the way it has since the 1960s.

The issue at 8 and Girard is a community issue. They can get their local council person to get the business classified as a nuisance property and closed down. The drug dealing is also a legal problem which the cops should be handling, but apparently they’re not. If you walk or drive by the shop you’ll see the side business of illegal narcotics, but apparently the police’s eyesight isn’t that good.

Prior to the clinic opening the hospital that it’s connected with used to be the hospital where the prisons brought inmates who had been injured or who were real sick, but apparently someone waiting for go to trial for multiple murders and the possibility that they could escape didn’t concern the neighbors that much.

Methadone clinics in general have issues. Some of the clients do go there to get help and through services such as individual therapy and group therapy they are able to recover, stay in recovery and eventually go on to school or gain stable employment. Some only go there to get on methadone because they want to use any money they get to use other drugs. The problem with these types of clients is that the clinics let them stay there for years still using drugs.

More than half of the clients that go to the clinics are known as dually diagnosed; that in addition to being diagnosed with an addiction they also have diagnosis’ of mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or other disorders such as anxiety, ADHD, OCD as well as personality disorders. All of these things play an important part in the treatment of the client and may also be a hindrance to their recovery from an addiction.

In a perfect world these clients might be better off in either a whole or partial hospital program; that they may even be successful in a residential treatment facility, but most of these programs were cut long ago. These clients are also not candidates for certain residential recovery programs because they’re still using drugs and even if they’re only getting their methadone these facilities still don’t take them because they consider taking methadone as still on drugs.

In essence because of the lack of compassion from the state as well as their communities they have nowhere else to go to get better help. Methadone clinics just don't offer methadone, but support, education and therapy.

The proposed clinic on Frankford may or may not bring more crime into the area, but the crime has always been there even if the neighbors live in a dream world and believe that the Holmesburg section of Philly has been immune to everything that plagues the rest of the city.

Like other parts of the city it will continue to increase no matter who takes over the building at Frankford and Decatur. In fact the occupants that were there before closed after a shoot-out in front of the building. The business happened to be a bar. The bars on Frankford are often troublesome especially during playoffs, but the neighbors seem to be okay with that.

The problems with the methadone clinics are not the actual clinics, but it’s a state problem. In states like New York, California, Wyoming, Michigan, Kansas and Arizona clinics give the clients enough methadone to last a week to take home. These clients come into the clinics just once a week for the medicine, to attend individual and group therapies, but they don’t all come in on the same day. In Pennsylvania the state won’t allow it. In this state you have to go in every day. If you miss more than three days you’re kicked out of the program.

People that come to a methadone clinic for help do so after spending years trying to get off of heroin either through a two or three day inpatient detox at a hospital or on their own. Most heroin addicts have no less than 10 years experience abusing the narcotics. Many of these addicts use 10 or more bags of heroin per day.

Continuous research has said that for methadone to be effective it must equal the amount of heroin that the addict is using and the ideal amount is 120mg. Pennsylvania limits it to 80 mg thus insuring that most addicts will never recover and that the ones who are continuing to use other drugs will also continue until they die. Some will rush the death process along by using other illegal drugs even though they are constantly warned by their therapist not to. Abusing other drugs while on methadone also lowers its ability to be effective.

Since Allyson Schwartz, who is running for governor, had so much to say about the actions she was taking and touts herself as pro-health care perhaps she should also address this issue. It might behoove her to remember that some addicts and their families also can vote. This may be a real good time for her to ensure the residents of Pennsylvania that she is pro-human for all humans.

This also seems like an ongoing Philadelphia problem of dumping trash elsewhere instead of leaving it on their block for it to be dealt with. It could also be the sense of entitlement that some Northeast residents have that they’re a little better than residents in other sections of the city.

They still may be ticked off that former State Senator Frank A. Salvatore was unsuccessful at attempting to get the state to let the Northeast separate from Philadelphia and be named Liberty County so the Northeast could be the new promised land.

For years all the clinics were in areas of North Philly and Southwest Philly had to deal with more than their fair share of crime and poverty. These residents also have invested in buying homes as well as raising their children. As Dr. Hite would say now is the time that everyone shares in the sacrifice. To expect these areas to always have to sacrifice their way of life so another clinic could open is unfair.

This is a city that should be fair; where every resident is treated equally, but when it comes down to the issues of methadone clinics it’s not true. It's unfair that every other area of the city is expected to have methadone clinics while Northeast Philly remains above it all especially when some of their residents have to venture to other areas for their methadone treatment.

In 2013 City Council passed a bill that would disallow new medical offices in the northeast to open unless the doctor gets a zoning variance. It was claimed at the time that there were too many doctor’s offices in the area, but that’s not really true. What the northeast has too many of are pizza and cheesesteak shops, dollar stores, bars and corner stores, but don’t expect them to have get a zoning variance. This bill had only one purpose and that was to stop drug clinics from opening up their doors for the northeast royalty.

Lastly this is an issue of human compassion.

In July 2013 a massive meeting was held at Lincoln High School to protest the methadone clinic which is kind of ironic since Lincoln High School is one of the most violent high schools in the city. There were a lot of people in attendance and there were also several there who had family members traveling all the way down into the Badlands to get treatment for their heroin addiction. At that meeting 100% of the attendees voted against the clinics even those who had family members that would benefit from a clinic in their area. This is similar to putting your trash somewhere else.

Heroin addiction as is the case with any addiction is a horrifying experience and too often these addicts are the result of a failed system in the neighborhoods as well as in their own families; that these families are more than happy to send their loved ones down to 8 and Girard or in the Badlands where they’ll most likely never recover.

In closing if there are methadone clinics that are out of control the city needs to look into them; all of them should be monitored by the city and stop leaving duties up to the state.

After interviewing some of the residents in Frankford they said that the clinic shouldn't open up there because it's a residential neighborhood, but the entire city should be considered residential and yes there is a clinic located at 9 and Market Street.

In addition all the residents aren't against a clinic in the northeast because they say it's needed. What they're against is the location and that's what O'Neill and Henon should be honest about.

Northeast residents need to land back on the planet and stop thinking that they live in a modern Shangri-la. There is no way they should be immune to what's affecting the rest of the city and the value of homes has more to do with the poverty rate, the AVI as well as the condition of the homes. Heroin addicts can't be blamed for everything. At least they shouldn't be.

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