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Pikesville methadone clinic OK for two more years

The Baltimore Sun

A methadone clinic in Pikesville may remain where it is for another two years while it seeks another location from which to operate, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake said the clinic, A Helping Hand, which rents space on Slade Avenue, must be given adequate time to relocate to a place where it does not violate a Baltimore County zoning prohibition against such facilities within 750 feet of residential neighborhoods.

In the meantime, the judge said in a ruling this week that Baltimore County officials "must cease all administrative proceedings and abate any fines or penalties" against the clinic, which has operated at its current location for six years.

An earlier court ruling found the county violated the clinic's due process rights. In 2002, just hours after the clinic had set up shop with the appropriate permits, the County Council passed a bill that sought to stop the clinic's activities at the site.

"The bill unreasonably targeted the clinic," Blake said, adding that relocating it should mean "finding a site reasonably convenient for the clinic's clients, and some additional time is warranted for that purpose."

Ellen Kobler, a Baltimore County spokeswoman, said yesterday that Blake's decision was "a win for the community" in that it upheld the county's law, which restricts methadone clinics and similar facilities to manufacturing zones.

"Her ruling doesn't question our law," Kobler said. "Our law, which protects our communities, is still on the books."

Joel Prell, the clinic's owner, did not respond yesterday to a request for comment.

Methadone, a synthetic narcotic, is used to treat addictions to heroin and some painkillers. But the private clinics dispensing methadone in residential areas are often opposed by community groups, who fear that crime will accompany the business and that traffic will disrupt neighborhoods.

Lawyers for the clinic had argued that the county based its law on stereotypes of drug addicts and that it had violated protections for the disabled by bending to residents' fears about drug treatment facilities.

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