Update: Public meeting set Monday with methadone clinic company, health officials

Friday July 20, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Less than a month after a plan to place a methadone clinic on Stoddard Avenue fell through, city officials are bringing Spectrum Health Systems and health officials together to discuss opioid addiction and treatment programs.

The meeting will take place Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Crosby Elementary School at 517 West St.

City officials will be joined by representatives from Spectrum, the state Department of Public Health, Berkshire Health Systems, and the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

"I think we need to get as much information out about the service that is being proposed to be provided," Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said, "and we don't want people to begin speculating about the need for it."

A question and answer session will take place after the one-hour speaking program.

Spectrum, a Worcester-based nonprofit which has twice attempted to place a methadone clinic in the city, will be represented by CEO Charles Faris. He will discuss the company's record in opioid treatment, its demonstrated outcomes, and how the company operates in other communities, according to a news release from the mayor's office.

Founded in 1969, Spectrum serves 40,000 individuals each year through more than 100 institutional and community-based programs that are located between Maine and Washington state, according to its website. It established one of the first therapeutic drug abuse treatment communities in the country 43 years ago in Lawrence.

According to a time line that the mayor's office released last month, Bianchi had previously asked Spectrum's attorney to come to Pittsfield and meet with the City Council and other interested parties to discuss the company's programs. But Spectrum declined the invitation until the settlement of a federal court case between the city and the nonprofit had been signed. The matter is still in litigation.

"I think they feel comfortable that now is a good time to come out," Bianchi said. "I have been trying very hard to build a relationship. We feel that we've put forth a good collaborative effort, and I think they feel comfortable to participate."

Spectrum sued the city in federal court last year after officials failed to provide the company with a building permit that would have let them place a methadone clinic at the Berkshire Nautilus building on Summer Street in downtown Pittsfield. A confidentiality agreement that is part of that pending litigation has prevented the mayor's office from providing any additional details about Spectrum's plans, including the second proposal on Stoddard Avenue, Bianchi has said.

"I think we've tried to be as proactive as we could be," the mayor said regarding Spectrum's plans. "But we've had certain restraints. We think we can get some good basic information out there that I think will be helpful for everyone."

On Thursday, Spectrum spokesman Andrew Strecker declined to comment on exactly what Faris intends to address at the community forum.

"All parties have agreed to reserve their remarks for the meeting," Strecker said via email.

City officials have said that DPH has determined a need for a methadone clinic to be placed in Pittsfield, and that the city is bound to honor that requirement. According to DPH, there were 695 non-fatal opioid related overdoses in Pittsfield in 2009.

Last month, word leaked out that Spectrum was interested in placing a methadone clinic in a former doctor's office on Stoddard Avenue after angry residents of that neighborhood claimed that city officials had failed to notify them. The doctor's office is located near Berkshire Medical Center in a mostly residential neighborhood.

Bianchi said the confidentiality agreement that was agreed to during former Mayor James M. Ruberto's administration had prevented his office from commenting on that proposal.

The Stoddard Avenue proposal fell through on June 26 when the city announced that the property's co-owners had declined to enter into an agreement with Spectrum. It is believed that Spectrum has considered between six and eight sites in the city.


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