Drug treatment center to open

The president of a proposed drug and alcohol treatment center in Oakland Mills that plans to dispense methadone, which has triggered vehement community opposition, said yesterday that the clinic will open in the village because he was unable to find a suitable alternative location.

Aktam Zahalka, the clinic's president, and Howard County Councilman David A. Rakes visited 13 sites yesterday that Rakes had found in an attempt to help Zahalka move his clinic, which is slated to operate in the Stevens Forest Professional Center.


But Zahalka said he was unable to tour the inside of all the facilities - in Elkridge, Laurel and Columbia- to determine if they were appropriate. Rakes also did not meet all of Zahalka's conditions, which included compensating him for the money that he had already invested in the Oakland Mills site.

Rakes said that "it breaks my heart" that Zahalka was unable to find an alternative site for his clinic, where he plans to distribute methadone, a synthetic opiate intended for heroin addicts to control withdrawal symptoms and curb their addiction.


Rakes said Zahalka wanted to be reimbursed $5,000 - Zahalka would say only that it was "a few thousand" dollars - and demanded that Rakes apologize for the way the community treated him. Zahalka said he also required that Rakes secure in writing the community's approval as well as any necessary county planning and zoning certification for the new site.

Rakes said Zahalka's conditions were unfair. The councilman said he only agreed to the apology and to help Zahalka find another location.

"I'm really very, very depressed about this because we put so much time in this," said Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat.

Zahalka said he is unsure when the clinic will open but that his lease begins this month. He said he was disappointed that he could not find another site, but he agreed he would later move the clinic from Oakland Mills if Rakes identifies a suitable location.

"I sincerely hope that the community will understand ... the effort we did to solve this issue," Zahalka said.

The clinic, Human Care Development Service, is not fully certified to dispense methadone. Such clinics require approval from the state Office of Health Care Quality, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Zahalka said the clinic will dispense methadone from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. six days a week - excluding Sunday - and anticipated most of the clients would come between 5:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. He said he expects the clinic eventually will have about 200 clients, who will spend about 10 minutes at the clinic daily, along with a 45-minute monthly counseling session.

Zahalka said the clients will park in the rear of the building, to allow more parking space for the rest of the building's tenants and customers.


The Oakland Mills community first heard of Zahalka's plans to open the clinic at a community meeting two weeks ago. More than 100 residents attended that meeting as well as another a week later, voicing overwhelming opposition to the clinic.

Residents are concerned that the facility would bring crime and increased traffic and are especially worried that it would operate about a block away from Oakland Mills middle and high schools and Stevens Forest Elementary School.