Methadone facility proposal dropped

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A plan to open a methadone clinic in a business park near the Scarlet Oaks neighborhood of Elkridge, fiercely opposed by local residents, has been dropped.

"We can't fight misconceptions," said Neal Berch, who owns and operates three other treatment centers in Maryland. "I just don't have the stomach to fight these people."

Bill Knott of SK Dorsey LLC, which owns the property, said the concerns of an existing tenant, a gym, led him to want to terminate the clinic's lease. Berch said he agreed with that decision after consulting with his partners.

Nearby residents and elected officials were thrilled to abandon their plans for protests at Berch's Germantown home and Knott's offices in Towson.

"I'm still exhaling," said Helen Homon. "I'm just happy that we can go back to sort of a normal life."

"The struggle is over," said County Councilman David A. Rakes, whose district covers east Columbia and parts of Elkridge.

Methadone, a synthetic opiate, has been used to quell the physical dependence on heroin or prescription painkillers for more than 30 years. Treatment facilities that use the drug must be certified through Maryland's Office of Health Care Quality.

Learned of application

After a controversial proposal to open a methadone treatment center near several schools in Columbia's Oakland Mills village was withdrawn last month, Elkridge residents learned about the application for Berch's clinic.

Although state health officials said Berch's other clinics in Frederick, Montgomery and Charles counties had not received any complaints, Scarlet Oaks residents were still worried that a steady stream of recovering addicts would attract drug dealers and crime.

"Our community felt we were being asked to bear all the burden for the risk," said Homon, of Scarlet Oaks, a subdivision across the street from Dorsey Business Center.

Berch said he chose to open a clinic in Elkridge after the state shut down a treatment center in Annapolis Junction last year. He spent a year and a half searching for an appropriate location and hoped to eventually serve up to 300 clients, he said.

Monthlong debate

During the monthlong debate, conversations between the two sides did not satisfy the parties involved.

Berch said Rakes did not provide assistance in finding a more suitable location, as promised. Rakes and the Elkridge residents reproached Berch for not meeting with the community. Homon said Berch had called her to inform her of his change in plans. She took the opportunity to tell him the residents' position.

Unexpected reaction

SK Dorsey's Knott said he did not expect the kind of reaction that the clinic drew. "I wasn't really aware of what the methadone clinic was when I signed the lease," he said.

His tenant, Roy Armstrong, owns a gym, called The Body Factory, next door to the proposed clinic site. "Roy Armstrong felt it was going to hurt his clientele," Knott said. "Roy is a valuable tenant, and he's worked hard to promote his business in the community."

Berch is trying to relocate the clinic, though he said he is not restricting his search to Howard County.

'Industrial area'

"We're trying to base our sites in an industrial area," Berch said.

He said he regretted that that was necessary. "It's kind of bad for people who need the help" if they live in residential areas, he said. "They shouldn't be forced to travel because of NIMBY."

Despite the community concern, Howard still has a need for additional treatment services, said Dr. Tom Cargiulo, the county's substance abuse services director.

Statistics show that addiction to prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Percocet are rising in the county. These addictions are treated with methadone as well as counseling.

"People in the community must be very relieved," he said.

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