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Methadone clinic draws fire at community meeting

A boisterous meeting Thursday night did nothing to change the minds of two Baltimore City Council members who said a complaint-prone methadone clinic in Hampden should be closed.

"We're engaged in a struggle," said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who has called for state health officials to shut down the clinic, which she and many merchants and residents say has long been a magnet for drug dealing and loitering in the heart of Hampden's business and school districts.

"We'll go to our state legislators now and ask them to get involved in this," Clarke said after the meeting.

Councilman Nick Mosby, who along with Clarke represents the Hampden area, said he still would work to close the clinic, Hampden Health Solutions at the Rail, Inc.

More than 100 people, including state health officials, residents, merchants, clinic officials and clinic clients, came to the meeting, which was called by Clarke and Mosby.

Clarke ordered several people, including a defender of the clinic, to leave the meeting after they interrupted it with an escalating war of words. Two police officers came in midway through the meeting and kept a close eye on it.

"Not all of us are selling dope," a defender of the clinic shouted before being kicked out.

The 3 1/2-year-old clinic, located at 3612 Falls Road, overlooks West 36th Street, Hampden's commercial corridor, known as The Avenue. It is open from 5:30-10 a.m. on weekdays and is located within walking distance of four schools and the city's Roosevelt Park Recreation Center and pool.

Many in the community say clinic clients are selling drugs outside the clinic and loitering, especially at a nearby bus stop.

Officials of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on hand at the meeting included Donald Hall, director of quality assurance for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, and Lisa Hadley, clinical director.

Hadley told the audience that methadone clinics "are an important part of our treatment for drug addictions," and the Hampden clinic was last recertified in 2012.

Hall said the state has no authority to dictate the locations of clinics. Hampden Health Solutions opened by right under city zoning laws.

But Hall added, "When we get complaints, we do look into concerns from the community."

Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, said he is not opposed to methadone clinics in general, just so close to the business district and schools.

"We need a clinic in the neighborhood," said Ray, whose store, Atomic Books, is located a few doors from the clinic. "I'm not saying not in my back yard. I'm saying not in my front yard."

The biggest applause of the night came when Ray said, "This is not a trial on methadone. This is a comment on the behavior of a business in the community."

The crowd was largely against the clinic.

"The place ought to be shut down, not relocated, shut down," said John Hara, a resident since the early 1970s.

"We are not suddenly jumping up" against the clinic, said Charlotte Hays Murray, owner of the store Charlotte Elliott on The Avenue. "We have been wailing against this (clinic) for three years."

Complaints about lack of supervision and security have dogged the clinic since it opened in February 2010. Clinic officials have installed security cameras and hired a security officer, but the complaints have persisted.

In a letter to "neighbors" Aug. 26, clinic officials said they have hired a new administrator and a new supervisor, including Jacky Arthur, a former regulator and auditor with the Maryland Office of Health Care Quality. They first introduced themselves Wednesday at a meeting of the merchants association, where Arthur said, "The community is our priority."

At the community meeting, held at the Hampden Family Center, Moshe Markowitz, co-owner of the clinic, agreed to add another security guard and to have the two guards patrol an extra two hours a day and an extra four blocks in the area.

"There is obviously a serious need" for methadone treatment in the area, Markowitz said. He said 80 percent of clients live with a 2-mile radius, a claim that drew surprise from Clarke and derision from many in the crowd.

Mosby, who left the meeting early, said, "I just want the neighbors to know that I'm 100 percent with you."

He told a reporter he would continue to work to close the clinic.

Clarke said after the meeting that despite the clinic's increased security and changes in management, "We know it won't last. We've been through this before."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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