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Baltimore Fire Dept. paramedics transport a patient from the Man Alive drug treatment center on Maryland Avenue Monday, July 15, 2019 shortly after a shooting. Two people died and a police sergeant and a woman were injured.
Baltimore Fire Dept. paramedics transport a patient from the Man Alive drug treatment center on Maryland Avenue Monday, July 15, 2019 shortly after a shooting. Two people died and a police sergeant and a woman were injured. (Jerry Jackson)

The location of methadone clinics is an emotional topic. They often become a quintessential not-in-my-backyard issue where lots of people say they see the need to help people fight their drug addictions, but few want the clinics near their homes or businesses.

News of one coming to the neighborhood almost always prompts a backlash, thanks to the belief that they draw crime and other bad elements — perceptions that studies have proven to be untrue. In fact, crime is more likely to occur around corner and liquor stores, Johns Hopkins researchers found.

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Just where the facilities should open and whether some neighborhoods get more than their fare share came up once again after the recent shooting at the Man Alive Inc. facility in the Charles North neighborhood near the border with Old Goucher, where two people were injured, including a police sergeant responding to the scene, and two died, including the gunman who had rushed into the building demanding methadone.

That prompted the editorial board to ask The Sun’s data journalist, Christine Zhang, to map the state’s clinics so we could see whether they are, in fact, overly concentrated in some areas and kept out of others.

Turns out that in a couple of neighborhoods in Baltimore there are clinics in very close range, but for the most part the facilities are pretty spread out. In many neighborhoods, there are none at all.

The residents of Charles North/Old Goucher, who say they have way too many of the facilities in their community, have some legitimate complaints. After all, there is another clinic directly across the street from Man Alive, something that certainly is not the norm. There are also two clinics within close vicinity of each other near Lexington Market, one on Linden Avenue and the other on Eutaw Street. The same is the case in West Baltimore; three clinics are located near Bon Secours hospital.

Given that Baltimore is by far the epicenter of the opioid crisis in the state — 224 people died from opioid overdoses in the city the first three months of the year — it is no surprise that a large share of Maryland’s methadone clinics are in the city. It is easy to argue that there is a greater need for the 32 facilities because more people addicted to drugs reside here. On top of that, residents from other counties may also make their way to Baltimore because of the treatment opportunities — much as addicts from the suburbs have long come here to buy street drugs.

But at least one study found that Baltimore may be over-resourced and have more facilities than is needed. Data from the University of Maryland Baltimore collected and analyzed on behalf of the Maryland Behavioral Health Administration found that in 2016 Baltimore needed treatment facilities for 12,504 people but has enough facilities to treat nearly 3,000 more. Other jurisdictions find themselves under-resourced. Carroll County, for instance, needs enough treatment options to serve 1,542 people but only has enough for 874.

Despite the gaps, Maryland has opened methandone clinics at a much more aggressive pace than other states, an idea that advocates say is needed to combat the intractable opioid crisis, but that others may not like. It is one of the states with the largest number clinics per capita, according to a Stateline analysis of data from the The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Statewide, there is enough capacity to treat 62,331 people, but even that is 29,909 short of the need, according to the University of Maryland study.

Clinic owners seem to skip over the more affluent neighborhoods in Baltimore, such as Roland Park, Homewood and Guilford. If you live in a neighborhood with a high median income, these clinics are nowhere near you. The highest median income of any neighborhood with a clinic is $65,188 in Hampden, home to the Hampden Health Solutions at the Rail clinic on Falls Road. That clinic has sparked a slew of protests from residents and businesses who complain about loitering and other problems they say the facility draws.

The reaction to methadone facilities represents a stark contrast to medical marijuana dispensaries, which seem to have been welcomed with more open arms, despite selling a drug no more dangerous or addictive than methadone. These facilities with their fancy exteriors can be found in some of the trendier neighborhoods like Federal Hill, Fells Point and Wyman Park.

City and state officials are limited in their control over where clinics can locate. As long as they are accredited by a federally approved agency, local governing bodies (Baltimore Behavioral Health in Baltimore) can’t stop them from opening. The facilities can open anywhere there is zoning for a medical facility, which is a lot of places. City officials would like to have more authority to approve or deny them if operators have past problems with facilities in other states or jurisdictions.

For the most part, methadone clinics are spread out and not clustered together, but it does seem unfair for some clinics, like the ones in Charles North/Old Goucher to be so close together. The facilities don’t necessarily correlate with crime, but people may hang around outside of them after getting treatment, and they can bring a lot of pedestrian traffic into the neighborhood. When there are liquor and corner stores near the property, that can exacerbate the problem. As the city continues its efforts to crack down on problematic retailers, we hope some of that issue will go away.

But we also urge Marylanders not to fall into the trap of stigmatizing methadone clinics. The need is everywhere, and what they attract most of all are people who are just trying to better their lives.

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