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Police say crime will accompany methadone clinic

March 15, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

A private company is preparing to open a methadone clinic in Berkeley County, W.Va., and law enforcement officials say they are concerned that the clinic may lead to additional crime to the area. Others say it will address a health issue.

The Martinsburg Institute outpatient clinic in Berkeley Plaza on U.S. 11 will treat people with heroin and other opiate addictions through the use of methadone, according to Ellen Valli, program director and part owner of the clinic.

The company, Martinsburg Institute Inc., had not opened the methadone clinic to new clients as of Thursday, but is in the process of transferring local clients from a methadone clinic in Frederick, Md., clinic officials said.

Valli said methadone treats opiate dependence from drugs such as heroin, and the painkillers Vicodin and OxyContin.

Methadone remains in a patient's system for 24 to 30 hours, reducing withdrawal and craving symptoms, Valli said.

"A patient can take the medicine in the morning and go to school or work and reclaim their lives," Valli said.

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The state granted the company a certificate of need in August 2001.

At that time 88 patients from the Eastern Panhandle were being treated at the Frederick Institute facility in Frederick, Md., Health Care Authority officials said.

Martinsburg Institute Inc. President Neal Berch did not return two phone calls.

Berch is also one of the owners of Another Way Inc. methadone clinic in Wheaton, Md., and the Frederick Institute Inc. clinic.

Martinsburg was chosen for the clinic because of its central location, and because many of the clients at the Frederick Institute are from Berkeley County, Valli said.

Berkeley County Health Department Administrator Jay Jack said there are pros and cons regarding the treatment.

"There are clinicians who say it does help a patient break addictions and then there are people in the Justice Department who associate crime with this. It traps the health department in the middle, but our primary mission is to help the public," he said.

"We have to do what we have to do," he said.

Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said he did not believe a methadone clinic was needed in the county.

"Most of the people going to clinics are involved with petty crime as a means to support their habit," he said. "The possibility of them committing another crime while in Berkeley County is pretty high."

Martinsburg Police Chief Ted Anderson said his main concern is the possibility of an increase in crime because the clinic is an out-patient clinic.

"To take nothing away from clients in an out-patient setting, this gives them the opportunity to do things that are not favorable," he said. "I would feel better about an in-patient clinic where people stay for 28 days."

Caren Forestandi, coordinator of substance abuse and crisis services for EastRidge Health Systems in Martinsburg, said she believed crime would decrease because there are motivated people who will use the methadone program as it is intended.

Then, "there are people who will manipulate the system. I have seen both outcomes," she said.

Law enforcement and health professionals agree that heroin use has increased in the area.

Smith said the department has made more arrests for heroin in the past year than ever before.

"Heroin wasn't around until a year ago," he said. "People were using OxyContin, Ecstasy, crack and cocaine."

EastRidge Health Systems has had a 75 percent increase in requests for opiate dependence treatment, said Forestandi.

"Three years ago we might get two or three requests a week. We get one to two a day now," she said.

EastRidge provides rehabilitation, counseling, symptom management and therapy for people with addictions that are generally non-narcotic, Forestandi said.

Forestandi said she believes there is more than one way to treat addiction.

"People can be successfully maintained on methadone and it is the preferred method for dealing with heroin," she said.

Charles Town Police Department Chief Mike Aldridge said methadone, a synthetic narcotic, is just another addicting drug.

"The clinic is just a place you go get your replacement for heroin," he said. "Haven't people thought of simply not taking drugs?"

"Methadone is certainly a drug," Forestandi said. But "it is used for management of withdrawal symptoms. People are not getting high on regulated methadone. Once their lives are stable they may go off of it."

Valli said addictions should be viewed as medical problems.

"This is a health issue we are talking about," she said.

Forestandi said she was looking forward to having a working relationship with the clinic.

EastRidge does not offer a methadone program, so it will refer clients to the clinic, and the clinic will refer patients who need a more intense counseling program to EastRidge, she said.

People whose insurance carriers do not cover substance abuse treatment will pay $77 a week for the treatment, which involves consultations with counselors, physicians and nurses, Valli said.

She said treatment varies with each person.

Valli said she hopes to educate the community on the purpose of methadone clinics. The clinic plans to host an open house.

"There is a lot of controversy and we don't have all of the answers for addiction. We have to keep an open mind on addiction," Forestandi said.

The Hagerstown Treatment Center, a methadone clinic that opened at 217 E. Antietam St. in May, also created concern among some officials. The first 12 patients treated there included residents of Maryland and West Virginia, officials said in May.

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