Erie County officials don’t support methadone clinic

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Neighbors from the lower West Side, Allentown and Elmwood Village communities have a powerful new ally, in their fight to prevent a methadone clinic from being opened in a residential neighborhood.

Erie County’s Mental Health Commissioner agrees with neighbors who say it’s a bad idea to operate the clinic at Hispanics United of Buffalo’s (HUB) building, located at 254 Virginia Street.

In a letter to the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), dated July 9, Commissioner Ellery Reaves wrote: “The site location is inconsistent with local requirements for the siting of opioid treatment services, and I personally believe it to be wholly unsuitable.”

“Serious questions have been raised regarding the provider’s commitment and capacity to monitor their patients while ensuring the safety of neighboring residents,” Reaves continued. “A better site must be found to provide opioid treatment services.”

Leaders from several area block clubs held a meeting to bring residents up to speed on Thursday evening. Many of them are calling it “a victory.”

“He’s the local authority on this issue,” VETTE Block Club President Celia White said of Reaves. “He can make a decision to recommend or not recommend to New York State OASAS whether or not to have a clinic.”

People at Thursday’s meeting almost universally voiced support for opening a new drug treatment clinic. Many said they recognize the heroin addiction problem in Western New York and want patients to have someplace to go to seek treatment.

“Recently, some clinics have closed. And there’s still a deficit in treatment being provided,” White said. “What we would like is for it to be in a commercial, ideally a medical location.”

There are too many risks, neighbors said, with bringing up to 200 recovering drug addicts a week into a residential area. Primarily, they are concerned about safety and crime.

“I think that it’s naive to think that you’re just going to open a clinic in a residential neighborhood, and all these well-behaved people are going to come, and the drug dealers who look for them are not going to follow them, because they are,” one woman said.

“They want to put it around schools, they want to put it around bus stops. My car has been broken into in the last couple of months. If you bring more stuff like this, it’s going to turn around and bring dependent people in the area,” a man said. “It’s not the right place. We’re trying to straighten out Allentown.”

“What about our houses, our backyards, our corners?” another man asked. “I roamed the streets in the 70s and 80s, and it was bad, to walk around there… and put a needle in your toe. I’ve got three grandkids. What do you think I should do? Let them ride their little bikes out there?”

Neighbors also learned at the meeting that HUB is not actually the organization that would run the proposed clinic.

PROMESA, an agency located in the Bronx, filed for the application to operate the clinic. PROMESA and HUB are both subsidiaries of the Acacia Network, a human services not-for-profit group that is also based in New York City.

HUB would lease space in its building to PROMESA, for $8,000 a month.

“I know that Hispanics United of Buffalo and Acacia and PROMESA haven’t done anything illegal, by creating the financial structure they’ve created. But it seems like the reason for opening up the clinic at Hispanics United of Buffalo is purely a financial consideration,” said neighbor Patty McDonald.

Block club leaders said they have reached out to HUB board members through numerous phone calls and emails, and that they were invited to Thursday’s meeting. They said no one from HUB has ever returned any of their messages.

Currently, HUB is offering drug treatment counseling services at 254 Virigina, but it is not dispensing methadone.

New guidelines for establishing methadone clinics went into effect on July 1, and with Reaves’ negative recommendation, it now appears HUB and/or PROMESA will have to re-apply, under those guidelines.

One of the requirements is that at least two public hearings be held, so the community has a chance to weigh in.

The Buffalo Common Council is also exploring whether it has any authority over where in the city methadone clinics can be located.

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