Methadone Clinic and Neighbors Meet Head On In Large Meeting

By Seth Daniel

Neighbors and community organizers confronted the owner of the Methadone clinic on Crescent Avenue Tuesday night in a large meeting on County Road about moving his operation, to which he said they would consider it.

Councillors Luis Tejada, Leo Robinson and Roy Avellaneda sponsored the open mic community meeting on Tuesday night at the First Church on County Road, in what was a meeting aimed at addressing violence and substance abuse. Though many topics were breached, the large crowd on hand was mostly interested in talking about moving the Methadone clinic.

The Methadone Clinic on Crescent Avenue, called Community Substance Abuse Centers, has been in operation since the early 2000s and was only placed in its location after a legal battle in which the City lost. Up until only recently, the clinic has been operating without a lot of public animosity, but seemingly out of the blue many community members began to criticize it at public meetings earlier this summer.

Dr. Steve Kassel, of Everett, spoke to the crowd about the benefits of Methadone and had three staff members on hand to explain how the clinic works.

“Studies showed that Methadone use decreased crime significantly,” he said. “They found that people in treatment at a rate of 93 percent used less illicit substances. Some 7 percent did not decrease their use. That 7 percent continued to use. But having that 7 percent is not a reason not to treat the 93 percent that find it beneficial…By giving them this medication, it’s not one drug for another. It’s taking away the withdrawal symptoms so they can then get to the counseling stage. We give people with alcohol medication…Part of the problem in Chelsea is we need more counseling. We do not cure the disease of addiction, just like we don’t cure diabetes. They do not get high on it and it blocks the high of heroin.”

That information was well received, but many in the audience wanted to ask the company – which often has been anonymous the community until the last year or so – about moving.

Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega led the charge.

“If there’s a way the Methadone Clinic can be relocated somewhere else, that would be a great relief to the residents of Chelsea,” she said. “We don’t want to be burdened with it anymore. Would you consider moving if we helped you identify a location? Not every city has the same kinds of problems we have to deal with. I’m not challenging the medicine because it’s necessary, but I am challenges the location and how it is so close to an elementary school that houses hundreds of young students. Chelsea has enough problems of its own and shouldn’t have to deal with other people’s problems coming in.”

That was followed by applause from the crowd.

The big news was that Kassel said he would consider a relocation.

“If the community has a viable location that can provide the medical treatment needed, Community Substance Abuse Centers is more than wiling to look at having the clinic relocated to a different site,” he said. “We want to work with the City and are partners with the City. We have a problem in our country with ‘Nimby,’ not in my backyard. No one wants a clinic in their backyard. If no one wants it and it doesn’t go anywhere, what happens to the 93 percent that get successful treatment?…I share your pain. I understand.”

Other parents  and grandparents spoke about the huge numbers of people who congregate in Bellingham Square – some of whom go to the clinic and then migrate to the Square to hang out. Many said their children see bad things caused by the clinic in the Square, and also on Crescent Avenue while on their way to school.

“My granddaughter shouldn’t have to see that; it’s not fair,” said one women, in tears. “They are walking around in such bad condition that they have to crawl. I believe in what you’re doing, but not so close to the kids.”

Chief Brian Kyes said the clinic has been a unique situation.

He said they expected a rise in crime when it went in around 2003, but crime did not actually increase in the surrounding areas. He said around 700 people per day seek treatment there, with a vast majority getting their treatment and leaving the city. Around 15 to 20 people, though, head to Bellingham Square to hang out.

“Some got their treatment and then went to Bellingham Square,” he said. “Bellingham Square is a small area. If we have 15 out of 700 coming there, that’s a lot. That’s been a struggle for us.”

Though the meeting was all encompassing, and also addressed many crime issues, the focus seemed to be squarely on the clinic – as it has been now for several weeks.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino has said previously that the clinic was largely unknown to the City, but has recently been participating with the City in various initiatives – including police planning efforts.

Tejada – who was the main host of the meeting – said he was glad to see such an amazing turnout from folks.

“We have a top notch group of people running this City,” he said. “That’ why Chelsea is a place where people want to live now. Not long ago we would have had an event like this and maybe five or 10 people would have showed up. Look at this crowd. It’s amazing. People are working together. That’s why people want to come here now.”

Methadone Clinic owner Dr. Steve Kassel took many questions from the audience on Tuesday night, including whether or not he would consider moving his clinic to a new location. He said if there were a better location the community identified, he would do so.

Methadone Clinic owner Dr. Steve Kassel took many questions from the audience on Tuesday night, including whether or not he would consider moving his clinic to a new location. He said if there were a better location the community identified, he would do so.

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