PITTSFIELD — On Friday, August 12, The Berkshire Eagle ran an article titled "Methadone clinic eyeing move from Summer Street site." The article states that sources confirmed Spectrum Health Systems had entered into a lease agreement with the vacant Solomon Furniture building, located at 390 Merrill Road, in Pittsfield. As a resident of the Allendale community, this article was the first mention I'd heard of the proposed relocation of the methadone clinic, despite its close proximity to my home.
For a number of reasons, and not for lack of understanding Spectrum's mission, I am extremely concerned with the impact this move will have on the safety of our residential neighborhood. The Allendale area is comprised of many people who give to the community, daily, through their careers. Our neighbors consist of, but are not limited to, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, teachers and social workers, like my partner and I, who have experience in a clinical setting and in the criminal justice system.
We are not numb to the major drug epidemic in Pittsfield, nor do we lack sympathy for people who struggle with issues of substance abuse, but before anything else, we are parents. Parents who work hard and pay taxes to live in a quiet neighborhood where our children can thrive and grow up with a sense of innocence.
Evidence-based programming suggests that drug treatment options, like methadone clinics, do not work unless they are coupled with a multitude of other resources, such as consistent therapy, to address the underlying issues for people's substance abuse. With Spectrum Health Systems aiding hundreds of people with methadone maintenance treatment each day, there couldn't possibly be enough mental health counselors in the county to offer sufficient therapy sessions to each client.
Though The Eagle suggested that Spectrum treats nearly 450 people daily, the Spectrum website boasts that it serves approximately 550 persons daily. I understand that some of these people are fully functional members of the community, finding success through this treatment option, and I fully support their commitment to reaching sobriety. That being said, according to Spectrum, it serves hundreds of people in varying stages of their recovery and/or people suffering from mental health issues.
As a resident of this community, I cannot ignore the fact that Spectrum will inevitably bring an influx of traffic to our otherwise quiet streets. Statistically speaking, some of these people may still be under the influence of illicit drugs, as they pass by our homes and our elementary school.
In the same neighborhood where our school children participate in drug abuse resistance education programs, they will now be witness to masses of people, parading through our streets, to get their daily dose of methadone.
According to national statistics, methadone can be purchased by clinics for just pennies, while a patient is charged an average of $12.50 per dose. At this cost, our local methadone clinic would be profiting over $2.5 million per year from distribution alone. Why, then, are they limiting their business quarters to neighborhoods full of homes and children? Why is more value being placed on people with substance abuse issues than on the families of this community, who have worked, for years, to establish a clean, quiet neighborhood we are proud to be a part of?
With respect to city officials, the proposal to add enhanced lighting or attractive landscaping to the proposed building offers little peace of mind. As a community that takes great pride in our homes and our families, it seems incomprehensible that this is the "consolation prize" being offered as our property values plummet and our children are exposed to our city's major drug epidemic. Rather than trying to put a Band-aid on a bullet wound, our officials need to advocate for us.
While I support the mission of drug treatment programs, I stand firm that they don't deserve a place in residential communities. According to a government website, between 15-20 percent of all inmates admit that they committed their current offense to obtain money for drugs. With nearly 550 people struggling with addiction, passing through our neighborhoods each day, we are entitled to have immense concern.
Furthermore, I would question the effectiveness of our methadone clinic as the mass.gov website states that the number of confirmed, unintentional opioid overdoses have doubled, in our city, from eight to 16, between the years 2012 (when clinic opened) and 2015. This results seems unsuccessful, considering our census indicates a decrease in overall population size over this time frame.
Mass General Law (Chapter 40A, Section 3) may protect Spectrum's ability to move to the location of its choice, but respect should be given to the many families who will suffer the repercussions of having a methadone clinic amidst their personal living space. While we support the mission of Spectrum, we do not welcome them in our neighborhood and ask for serious reconsideration of its new location.
Brianna R. Lamke is a resident of the Allendale neighborhood.