The shootings at a Baltimore methadone clinic that killed two and wounded two others, including a police officer, were tragic and unfortunate. We don’t know what drove Ashanti Pinkney, who police say was known to the Man Alive clinic and demanded methadone, to take such drastic actions. What we do know is that the heartless loss of life did not have to happen.
Thankfully, violence at these clinics are rare, and people must be careful not to forget the vital role the facilities play in treating people for opioid addictions. It would be easy to now paint these facilities with a broad brush as unsafe and magnets for crime, and to call for their closings. This should not be done.
An examination of crime near Baltimore methadone clinics by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released in 2016 found these facilities are not incubators for crime. In fact, they pose no more risk for violence than most other types of business. The bigger crime magnets, according to the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol an Drugs, were corner stores and liquor stores, which saw more homicides, rapes, aggravated assaults and robberies per business than the areas near drug treatment clinics.
If you look at the history of the Man Alive clinic, located in the 2100 block of Maryland Ave., there have been no major issues, according to state health officials, who last inspected the facility in June. The state found no reports of safety violations, and the clinic was held up by former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy as an example of a comprehensive approach to treating drug addiction.
This kind of data doesn’t stop the skepticism that these methadone clinics spark, and we know that neighborhoods often don’t roll out the welcome mat for these facilities. There have been plenty of campaigns to shut down methadone clinics or block new ones, and the shootings at Man Alive will only fuel the critics.
But the fact is there are drug addicts in every community in Baltimore, and methadone is one of the most effective forms of treatment for these folks. Those on methadone must take precise dosages at exact times and can only do so under the supervision of a doctor. (It can become addictive if not taken correctly.) The drug can only be administered at a federally approved facility, which can cause logistical complications for people using methadone and trying to live a normal life and hold down a job. To make it easily accessible to those who need it, the facilities need to be located in all communities.
That’s not to say all methadone clinics are created the same. Some operators certainly run these facilities better than others. There are ways to file complaints with the state and work with lawmakers to hold these more unscrupulous operators accountable. The police and private security could also do a better job at controlling loitering that may occur around these facilities after people are administered their dosages.
Most of of these clinics, however, have security and protocols in place to try to prevent problems before they blow up. Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Ashanti had been let into the building. It is unclear why and if some protocols were not followed by staff. Especially if witnesses are correct that he had been kicked out of the center in the last week.
We hope Monday’s shootings, though tragic, do not deter substance users from seeking methadone treatment. We are still in the midst of an opioid epidemic and need to throw everything at it to prevent overdoses. And the fact is, methadone works.