Erie County’s mental health commissioner has called for the state to block a plan for a methadone clinic for heroin addicts because the proposed site at Hispanics United of Buffalo on the city’s Lower West Side is “wholly unsuitable.”
“A better site must be found to provide opioid treatment services,” Mental Health Commissioner Ellery Reaves said in a letter to the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.
Under the plan, people addicted to heroin would visit the clinic at 254 Virginia St. in the mornings for their daily dose of methadone.
That’s on the same corner where children line up to take the bus to school, said the neighborhood’s residents who are fighting the proposed clinic.
“This site location is inconsistent with local requirements for the siting of opioid treatment services, and I personally believe it to be wholly unsuitable,” Reaves wrote in the letter. “Serious questions have been raised regarding the provider’s commitment and capacity to monitor their patients while ensuring the safety of neighborhood residents,” Reaves wrote.
In a statement Thursday, Acacia Network and its affiliate, Hispanics United of Buffalo, defended the clinic’s planning.
“Contrary to several recent reports, HUB … has acted as a good neighbor and adhered fully to the laws requiring the applications, notifications, meetings and assurances with regard to the facility and its programs, and in good faith has also gone far beyond what was legally mandated,” the statement said. “This includes engaging the community every step of the way beginning in December 2012 through the present.”
Hispanics United held several community meetings since 2012 about plans for the substance abuse treatment program and “has actively sought and incorporated community feedback into its planning process,” the statement read.
In his letter, Reaves acknowledged a report last year showing 24.4 percent of Erie County’s methadone treatment needs remained unmet.
But while Erie County continues to support establishment of outpatient services at the proposed site, the county will not support opioid treatment services there, Reaves said in his letter.
In its statement, Hispanics United pointed to the need for heroin treatment.
“In light of the recent national heroin outbreak which has heavily affected Buffalo, the community recognizes the need for a treatment facility on the West Side,” the statement read. “However, it has not responded with a viable solution. HUB offers a needed solution which, aside from a very vocal few, has full support of the larger West Side community, as well as the city, county and state.
The state has final approval on the clinic.
But Reaves’ letter will lead to heightened state scrutiny of the clinic plan and require more community input, said a spokesman for Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
“They won’t be able to put that clinic there until the provider can meet whatever concerns the county or the state has about the proposal,” said Peter Anderson, the county executive’s spokesman.
“To say that it’s not going to happen at all is not exactly correct, because OASAS … can put it wherever they want,” Anderson said. “But the way it is now kind of goes back to square one, and the process has to involve much more community input than was involved up to this point.”
Hispanics United, in its statement, said it “has facilitated more than 65 meetings with a diverse group of community members representing local businesses, neighbors, human service providers, and faith-based organizations, Erie County service providers, and county, state and other local elected officials.”
“These meetings were held to ensure notification, engage in dialogue and respond to recommendations,” the organization said. “HUB has and will continue to respond to community feedback. Some recent changes include adding security cameras to the exterior of the building and as well as additional security guards.”
But some residents said the plan to open the clinic on Virginia Street caught the neighborhood by surprise, and residents worry their work over the last 20 years to turn around the neighborhood could be undone.
Operators of the proposed clinic began screening and accepting clients July 1 despite not having final approval from the state to operate the clinic, according to Jonathan White of the Allentown Association,
The statement from Hispanics United said it has “full access to Acacia Network’s expert management, clinical and financial resources to ensure success.”
Acacia Network, a New York City nonprofit agency, operates more than 25 substance abuse and mental health programs, including outpatient methadone services in the South Bronx.
The methadone program there serves 550 men and women at a residential neighborhood location that it shares with a day care program for 125 preschool children and a health care community center.
In the statement, Hispanics United and the Acacia Network called the South Bronx “well respected, and there have been no reported incidents that have jeopardized anyone’s safety.”