Baltimore County

Methadone clinic still drawing fire in Hampden

Seventeen months after a methadone clinic opened at Falls Road and West 36th Street to the dismay of some Hampden merchants and residents, the outpatient facility for drug addicts is still drawing fire.

At least one parent is threatening to politicize the clinic in an election year and picket it if problems persist.

Community and business leaders are complaining about everything from alleged drug dealing outside the clinic to litter and loitering, especially at a bus stop on 36th Street, The Avenue, across from the clinic.

Those are problems that plagued the clinic from the start in February 2010.

"It's been a source of problems and contention since it opened," said Benn Ray, owner of Atomic Books, located near the clinic, and president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association.

"As they continue to take in more clients, it's getting worse," Ray said. "It's like the Wild West here in the morning."

The clinic, 3612 Falls Road, is open from 5 to 10 a.m. on weekdays, before most shops open. But parents taking children to the Roosevelt Recreation Center's summer camp, between 7 and 9 a.m., are complaining about loitering and say they've seen people selling drugs at a nearby 7-Eleven convenience store to people who appear to be clinic clients, according to Lisa Meyers, president of the Roosevelt Recreation Council.

"We've received complaints that people are selling prescription drugs in front of 7-Eleven," Meyers said. "It has also brought more litter to the neighborhood."

Ray said he often sweeps up empty prescription pill bottles on his block of Falls Road.

Meyers said she has lodged complaints with City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, the Mayor's Office of Constituent Services, and Doug Gibson, a community liaison officer for Northern District police.

"If I continue to get complaints, we may end up standing on the corner with picket signs, because it is an election year," Meyers said.

Some merchants and community leaders wanted to stop the clinic from opening, arguing that it overlooks a main commercial street in the heart of Hampden and is within walking distance of the rec center and several schools.

"We tried to fight it before it started," Meyers said.

But Clarke told critics of the clinic at the time that there was nothing they could do legally because zoning laws permit a methadone clinic there.

Ray said he is considering publicly encouraging people to call the owners of the office building in which the clinic is located, "and ask them to reconsider" leasing space to the clinic.

Ray said he opposes picketing because "it won't help anyone," but added, "My feeling is it's time we found a more appropriate location for this clinic."

Tawanda Holder, program manager at the clinic, said the clinic has expanded upstairs because it had gotten cramped and she was trying to give each client personal, one-on-one access to counselors. But she denied that the clinic has taken on more clients or that it will do so in the future.

Holder also said she has a security guard posted outside during clinic hours to monitor clients and activities on the street, and that the clinic will expel from the methadone program any client who is caught purchasing or selling drugs. Holder also said a security camera is posted outside the building.

As for loitering at the bus stop on The Avenue, Holder said she plans to hand each client a written memo —asking them to use two bus stops a block away on Falls Road instead.

And she said she will ask the security guard to redirect anyone seen heading toward the bus stop on The Avenue to the bus stops on Falls Road.

But she took exception to complaints by merchants and residents that clients are loitering at the bus stop, after they leave the clinic.

"In their minds, (clients are) loitering, but they're waiting for a bus," Meyers said.

Holder said Meyers complained to her last week, but that she has not heard from Ray recently.

Holder also encouraged people who find empty pill bottles to bring them to her, and also encouraged them to call police if they sees suspected drug dealing.

Holder said she is taking whatever measures she can think of to keep the peace.

"We're going to try what we can try," she said.

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