EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 13, 2014

Residents petition against methadone clinic

Petition urges Bay State lawmakers to change the law

By Alex Lippa

---- — PLAISTOW — Plaistow residents are trying to make sure their voices are heard in opposition to a proposed methadone clinic.

More than 250 people have signed an online petition, hoping to prevent Spectrum Health Systems from opening a clinic in Haverhill near the Plaistow line. The petition is directed toward Massachusetts lawmakers.

“It isn’t neighborly what they’re doing,” said Susan Caron of Plaistow. “We are entitled to at least some seat at the table.”

Spectrum Health Systems received a building permit from the city in August to begin renovating a building near the Plaistow line that was formerly The Children’s Learning Center.

In a letter Oct. 22, Spectrum’s lawyer, Paul Holtzman, said the nonprofit organization is not required to follow the city’s zoning regulations nor apply for a special permit from the City Council because it is an educational corporation, according to Massachusetts law.

The petitioners want the legal definition changed.

They are also not required to meet with neighboring towns, town officials said, although they have met with Plaistow police Chief Stephen Savage.

“We want to manage shared responsibilities for public safety and appropriate uses in areas that are zoned for retail and commercial establishments,” Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald. “We happen to think that this use is inconsistent with what we currently have in that area.”

Calls to Holtzman and Spectrum Health Systems were not returned.

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini has said he opposes a methadone clinic at the Plaistow Road location and the city has retained outside counsel in preparation for a possible legal fight.

“I have been advised by counsel not to comment further since this matter may end up in litigation,” Fiorentini said in December.

Calls to Fiorentini Friday were not returned.

Caron said she is worried about the dangers of methadone; her brother overdosed on it in 2004.

“He had heard that it was a miracle drug,” said Caron, who is also a pharmacist. “He had chronic back pain and methadone was prescribed to him. He ended up overdosing and dying.”

Others are concerned about the location of the clinic.

“It’s right in the middle of a shopping plaza,” said Susan Kneeland of Plaistow. “I don’t want to be taking my granddaughter shopping at T.J.Maxx and come across drug addicts. I’m going to be uncomfortable.”

Elizabeth Paquette of Atkinson agreed.

“I feel it’s in the wrong place, where there are businesses,” Paquette said. “It’s going to impact everyone. Traffic is going to be horrible. I certainly don’t think we need one near Plaistow.”

Fitzgerald said his hope is for Spectrum to come to a public meeting, but he has not heard anything from them.

“It’s an open invitation,” he said. “We welcome them to come in and engage us.”

While he said he understands the positive effects of a methadone clinic, he doesn’t think the proposed site is the right location.

“They’re trying to put a square peg into a round hole,” Fitzgerald said. “Substance abuse centers should be away from residential areas and closer to medical centers and hospitals, where they are better suited.”

Spectrum does have at least one hoop they need to jump through before opening a methadone clinic. They need to apply to the city’s building inspector to be granted a certificate of occupancy.

The petition is at change.org/organizations/stop_methadone_clinic.