Methadone clinic planned

April 26, 2001

Methadone clinic planned


Proposed methadone clinicPhoto: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

A Florida company's plans to open a methadone clinic in Hagerstown by this summer are being questioned by Hagerstown's police chief and the Washington County health officer.


Concerned about a possible increase in crime, County Health Officer William Christoffel said he'd prefer the methadone clinic not open here.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith also had concerns about increased crime and questioned why the company wanted to open the clinic in a county that doesn't have a serious heroin problem.


The Hagerstown Treatment Center at 217 E. Antietam St. would treat people who are addicted to heroin or other opiates, especially painkillers, said Dr. J. Ramsay Farah, who will be the clinic's physician.

Christoffel said methadone clinics "tend to act as a magnet for drug dealing and an increase in crime."

It's possible such a clinic may not become a drug magnet, Christoffel said. He suggested clinic officials take steps to discourage such activity, such as hiring security.

The clinic would have a security guard, said Lori Erwin, director of development for Orlando-based Colonial Management Group.

Erwin said a security guard is "rarely needed," but it "seems like it makes everyone happier."

To her knowledge, methadone clinics usually help reduce crime in a neighborhood, Erwin said.

Farah said many people don't understand addiction problems and treatments, and experience what Farah called "methadone phobia."

"You're more likely to accept someone addicted to cigarette smoking or be tolerant of someone with alcohol addiction and don't appreciate someone could get addicted to many other agents," Farah said.

The clinic would serve not only heroin addicts, but people who are addicted to painkillers with opiate derivatives, Farah said. Such medicine may have been prescribed for patients as part of cancer treatment or for back injuries and their body chemistry couldn't handle the medication, leading to addiction, he said.

The opiate painkiller in the spotlight lately is oxycontin, a long-acting morphine, Farah said.

Smith said he is a proponent of drug treatment, but doesn't see the need for a treatment center for heroin or oxycontin because neither is a big problem here.

Smith said when he was on the Baltimore force, there was a methadone clinic in his foot patrol area that was a problem for the neighborhood.

"Heroin addicts tend to steal to support their habits," Smith said.

What the community needs is a treatment center for cocaine addicts, Smith said.

"Why would they go in a direction we have no problem and ignore such a glaring need?" he said.

Farah said there have been few cases in which methadone could be used to treat cocaine addiction and that is not a treatment the clinic will focus on.

"So far everything I've heard from their needs assessment has been proven incorrect and not incorrect by a small amount, but totally incorrect," Smith said.

Colonial's Development Coordinator Joseph Hodge said the company analyzed Maryland counties in the region and determined there is a growing heroin problem in Washington County.

When first interviewed on April 19 Hodge cited several statistics, including heroin-related deaths increasing from 1 in 1997 to 5 in 1999.

When asked his source for the statistics, Hodge transmitted a fax produced by the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Research that states those deaths were narcotic-related, but doesn't specify which narcotic.

Hodge also originally stated that a state report noted 840 drug-related arrests in Washington County in 1998, of which 453 involved heroin, opiate or derivatives.

The 453 figure also includes cocaine-related arrests, according to the 1998 Uniform Crime Report.

Local law enforcement officials said they recalled only a few heroin arrests, most of which were from the prison complex south of Hagerstown.

In 1999, the city's lab analyzed 601 seized drugs, of which two were heroin, Smith said.

While Hodge and Erwin said Colonial didn't consider drawing clients from out-of-state, Farah said the clinic could serve the Tri-State area.

There has been a growing heroin problem in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle and in Franklin County, Pa., Smith said.

Last Thursday the Washington County Narcotics Task Force and Franklin County Narcotics Task Force cooperated to arrest eight people on drug charges after a suspected heroin dealer moved business to Washington County to avoid police pressure in Pennsylvania, police said.

According to police, Farah and health officials, the closest methadone clinics are in Frederick, Md., and Harrisburg, Pa.

"It's a medical service that's not being provided in the community," Farah said.

Farah said Colonial has a 10-year lease for the office space in the building at East Antietam and King streets. The space was once Farah's office and is owned by a trust.

Hagerstown's Economic Development Coordinator Debbie Everhart said the treatment center's hours would be 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with many clients going in for treatment before work or during lunch.

Farah said he hopes the treatment center will receive referrals from physicians, judges and local citizens.

The property at 217 E. Antietam St. is zoned to allow the treatment center, Everhart said.

The treatment center must obtain a license from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. State officials had not completed their search for the license as of Wednesday afternoon and treatment center officials said it's possible it may not have been obtained yet.

Colonial operates approximately 30 clinics in 13 states. This would be its first treatment center in Maryland. Its next closest treatment center is in Richmond.

Information about Colonial Management can be found at its Web site at

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