Proposed Linthicum methadone clinic withdraws variance request

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

A proposed methadone clinic in Linthicum is stalled after attorneys for the project withdrew an application for county approval.

B.N.J. Health Services — which runs treatment centers in Glen Burnie, Baltimore and Salisbury — had proposed to open a new methadone clinic off Central Avenue in Linthicum, but had faced fierce opposition from residents as well as state and county lawmakers. The organization had requested an exemption — called a “variance” — from a county requirement that its building be a certain distance from residences and heavily traveled road.

The clinic’s attorneys were set to appear before an administrative hearings officer at 11 a.m. Thursday to argue their request for the variance. The hearings officer approves and denies variances. A variance can be granted if the officer accepts the argument that the law in question is too onerous.

Since the application was withdrawn, hearings officer Jonathan Hodgson denied the variance request. County officials said the denial is required by county law and an appeal isn’t possible since a hearing was never held.

An attorney for B.N.J. Health Services did not immediately return a request for comment. The owner and CEO of the company also did not return a request for comment.

Methadone clinics dispense narcotics to help patients withdraw from opioids. Methadone is itself an opioid but does not deliver the high of other opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl. The clinics are licensed by the state.

The proposed site’s proximity to a school bus stop prompted District 32 delegates to send a letter Tuesday in opposition to the development. Delegates Pam Beidle, D-Linthicum; Mark Chang, D-Glen Burnie; Ed DeGrange, D-Millersville and Alice Sophocleus, D-Linthicum signed the letter.

“We find the close proximity of such an operation to a school bus stop to be gravely troubling,” they wrote. “We also have great concerns regarding the capability of local infrastructure to accommodate such a facility in the proposed location, when other treatment facilities are presently in operation within a close radius of Northern Anne Arundel County.”

In 2016, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released research that tracked data of 53 publicly funded clinics in Baltimore. It found there was less crime at those locations than liquor and corner stores.

Anne Arundel County had a record number of opioid-related deaths with 155 in 2017. County Executive Steve Schuh has speculated that number would rise after hospitals released more death data.

County Councilman Pete Smith said he is aware the county needs methadone treatment clinics, but doesn’t think a non-elected official — the hearings officer — should grant variances for methadone clinics andmedical marijuana dispensaries.

There are other locations these sites can develop, and if they can’t, they should seek relief from the Council, not an administrator, Smith said.

“In my six years on the Council not one person has sent me an email complaining they don’t have access to methadone treatment,” Smith said.

For some residents living near a treatment clinic, their experiences vary. In Glen Burnie there is a treatment clinic off North Langley Road.

Glen Burnie resident Dino Stevens said his home’s shed has been broken into several times, though nothing was stolen. He has also noticed more people walking up and down the street in his neighborhood, but he didn’t know if they were linked to the clinic or not.

“The shed locks but if you twist the door handle hard enough, it opens,” Stevens said. “There isn’t anything valuable in there though, just gardening tools.”

Chris Gustafson — Stevens’ neighbor — said she wasn’t even aware that the clinic was located down the road.

Like any neighborhood, there are some problems — such as mechanics test-driving cars on the long stretch of road — but it is mostly quiet, Gustafson said.

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