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Drug Clinic study is put on hold Methadone centers debated in county


A study to determine whether local zoning laws should be used to control private, for-profit methadone treatment centers has been put on indefinite hold by the Baltimore County Planning Board.

In March, the County Council asked the board to look at the possibility of making methadone clinics special exceptions, requiring a public hearing and the zoning commissioner's approval.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, D-5, was one of the council members who sponsored a resolution asking the Office of Planning and Zoning to review ways that the county could exert control over private, for-profit methadone centers.

Mr. Gardina said he was disappointed by the Planning Board's decision, admitting there wasn't much the council could do to force the issue.

Phillip Edwards, who chairs the board's committee on regulations and standards, said, "The council's request will not be brought up again unless it becomes important to do so."

The decision is decidedly different from a stand the board took a month ago.

At that time, board members reacted angrily when asked to expedite approval of a planning staff report recommending that zoning laws not be used to control the clinics. They said the issue was too important not to be studied in depth. Speeding up the process would undermine the board's integrity, they said.

For now, Mr. Edwards said, board members are satisfied to go along with County Executive Roger B. Hayden, who is against changing zoning laws to deal with the issue.

Mr. Hayden has said he would rely on state Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini's promise to consult county officials and obtain citizen input before approving a methadone clinic.

Merreen E. Kelly, the county's administrative officer, said the administration's position has not changed. The next move is up to the Planning Board, he said.

There is still a chance for the council to address the issue.

"If the board fails to take any action on our request, then after six months, we can introduce our own legislation," said Mr. Gardina, adding that his policy is not to contact the board to push for measures that originated in the council.

The controversy over methadone clinics arose after private, for-profit methadone centers tried to open in Rosedale, on the county's east side. Those attempts met with heated community opposition.

Mr. Hayden also has told Mr. Sabatini of his opposition to those clinics.

The public outcry over the clinics resulted in the General Assembly passing a bill this session requiring the state to get the views of local government and citizens before a drug or alcohol center is certified. The bill is scheduled to be signed this week by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Methadone treatment clinics are more controversial than other drug treatment centers because they dispense methadone, a synthetic narcotic that satisfies an addict's heroin craving.

As a medical office, methadone clinics are permitted in business and manufacturing zoning districts in Baltimore County. They must have licenses issued by the federal Food and Drug Administration and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and they must be certified by the state Drug Abuse Administration. There is little the county can do to stop a clinic.

According to Mike Gimbel, director of the county's Office of Substance Abuse, private, for-profit methadone centers are becoming more common throughout the country. The county uses state money to operate a nonprofit methadone center in Timonium.

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