City Council spent nearly two hours today discussing the state of the 13 methadone clinics across the city, where they are located and what can be done to prevent abuses by those who prowl the streets in need of a quick fix.
Dr. Arthur Evans, commissioner for the city's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilities Services, said there are 10 licenses issued for programs in the city serving more than 5,000 clients. He answered questions from council members during week four of budget hearings in City Hall.
Evans said that while there is room for improvement in how medication is administered, methadone is the most regulated treatment for opiate dependencies.
"It's very heavily regulated and we include them as Medicaid providers. It's in our best interest as a city to make sure providers are in communities," said Evans.
Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. said that some of his closest friends have needed the kinds of services provided by methadone clinics.
He referenced a section of the city where a methadone clinic exists, sandwiched in between an elementary school and a high school. He said he once sat out there for hours just observing, and is probably not the only one who witnessed drug transactions taking place out in the open.
"I'm watching parents walk their kids through that kind of traffic on their way to school. Some people just never go, because there's commerce there," he said.
"I want every young person to be able to walk to school without having to navigate transactions."
Council members Bobby Henon and Maria Quinones-Sanchez echoed Jones' sentiments, calling for better oversight and higher standards of accountability on behalf of the service providers. Henon said he would keep a watchful eye on "bad actors" who then become bad neighbors when they exploit an opportunity to make money by preying on a person's addiction.
"If I find out there are bad actors in my district and there's no oversight from the city, I will build up a case for them being bad neighbors, bad to society, bad to their clients, and bad to the community," he said.
"When you have 600 people coming in and out of a facility that's next to a daycare, or next to a school, or along a commercial corridor – that's all unacceptable if you're a bad neighbor. They should be treated as such and their license should be revoked."
Sanchez raised the question of how to monitor the prescriptions being issued so that the process does not develop into a profit-making enterprise.
"I've noticed an abundance of pharmacies popping up located near mental health service providers," she said.
"Around Broad Street from Kensington to Lehigh Avenue there are 12 pharmacies – some only open certain hours of the day. I need to know what's going on."