Feb 22 10 10:10 AM

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Methadone clinic firm has good reputation
Officials from two other areas with Discovery House cite no major issues with facility.

TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER tmorgan@timesleader.com


YATESVILLE � A company that�s working to open a methadone clinic on Brown Street has a good track record in other cities where it operates clinics, several officials from those cities said.

Discovery House, a for-profit treatment provider based in Rhode Island, operates 16 facilities in Maine, Utah, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The company is seeking a zoning variance to locate a clinic in the Quackenbush Industrial Park off Oak Street.

The proposal has raised concern among some borough officials and residents, who say they think the clinic is too close to residential areas and will negatively impact the community. Similar concerns were raised by residents in some of the other areas the company operates. But officials in two of those communities said they�ve had no problems with the clinics.

�For all intents and purposes they are a very good neighbor,� said Michael Murphy, police chief of Warminster Township in Bucks County. �People come in and get what they have to get and leave.�

Murphy said that in the past two years he�s been called to the clinic there just once, and that was to quell a domestic disturbance.

�They do provide a valuable service,� he said.

James Porter, city manager for Calais, Maine, said the biggest problem his community has had with the Discovery House clinic there is the traffic.

�We�ve had minor issues with traffic when they come in the morning to get dosed. It�s a small parking lot,� Porter said. �In our case it worked out pretty good. People are getting help when they had no hope before.�

Officials with the regulatory agencies in Maine and Pennsylvania also said there have been no major issues with the company.

Methadone is a synthetic drug used to treat persons addicted to heroin and other opiates. Its use is widely supported in the drug-and-alcohol field, but it remains controversial as some allege it simply replaces one drug with another.

Officials for Discovery House are scheduled to make their pitch for the zoning variance before the Luzerne County zoning board, which hears cases for Yatesville, on June 4.

Yatesville Mayor Joseph Chiumento last week raised concerns about the proposed location. Reached Friday, he declined to comment on whether the borough will oppose the request for the variance. He encouraged residents to attend the zoning meeting to give their input, positive or negative.

The proposal calls for the clinic, which will serve up to 150 clients, to be located near the end of Brown Street, a dead end that leads to a wooded area. The area, zoned heavy industrial, is populated by other businesses.

The nearest borough homes are located on Pittston Avenue, roughly a 1 mile drive by road. But the homes are much closer if a person walks through the wooded area, said Sal Alaimo, a resident of Pittston Avenue.

�It�s in my back yard,� Alaimo said. �Across that dead end is where I live.�

Camille Wojack of Winter Street said she�s farther away from the site, but she�s concerned for other borough residents, particularly those who have small children.

�There are a lot of people who are not too crazy about the idea,� Wojack said. �There�s a kids� playground and a lot of residential homes around.�

Robert Kornacki, director of development for Discovery House, said the site is in compliance with state law that forbids methadone clinics from operating within 500 feet of homes, schools, religious institutions, playgrounds and child care centers.

Kornacki said he understands residents are anxious, but he�s hopeful Discovery House�s reputation, as well as the success of the methadone clinic operated in Plains Township by Choices, a division of Wyoming Valley Healthcare System, will ease their concerns. Choices recently celebrated its third anniversary.

�In Plains there was similar opposition and the same questions and concerns. Now you have three years of history to show none of those concerns came true,� Kornacki said. �There�s absolutely no reason why we would be different.�

Mary Martin, director of Choices, said she supports the entry of a second methadone clinic in the region. She said she would prefer if Discovery House would open the clinic in another area of the county, however, to provide more accessibility, particularly to residents of Hazleton.

�We feel accessibility is an unmet need. Why not look south of here, like Hazleton, or in Wyoming or Lackawanna County?� Martin said.

Martin noted Choices recently obtained final approval to expand its program to treat 190 clients, up from the 155 it was previously licensed to treat. She said she expects to add the new clients within the next few weeks.

Even with that expansion, Kornacki said he thinks it�s clear that another clinic is needed in the area. People who are not enrolled in Choices must now travel to Allentown and Philadelphia.

�We never looked at the proximity as being competition. It�s opening up maybe 140 spots for other people who have difficulty accessing services,� he said.


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