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By Eugenio Russi

In a July 20 letter to the editor, Michael E. Ferdman states, “downstate behavioral health conglomerate Acacia Network’s expansion plan is the reason for the Virginia Street location of a methadone clinic.”

This is incorrect. The location of Hispanics United of Buffalo’s current drug treatment center and planned methadone clinic at 254 Virginia St. is due to the fact that HUB was founded in 1986 at 254 Virginia St. to serve the needs of the community, and it has been operating out of that location ever since.

Acacia Network is the largest Latino-founded and led non-profit integrated care organization in New York. We at Hispanics United of Buffalo are proud to have the support of Acacia Network in our rebuilding effort. Acacia provides a sound financial base as well as expert management, including 10 years’ experience in operating a successful methadone clinic in a heavily residential area of the South Bronx.

Ferdman goes on to suggest another location for the clinic, and erroneously states that “siting a clinic” at that suggested location “would not serve Acacia’s business model. Someone else, not Acacia, would receive the federal and state money for the clinic.”

The fact is that reimbursement for drug counseling services, including methadone, are strictly guided by New York’s Office of Medicaid. Individual visits are billed directly to the state on a weekly basis. This remains true no matter which entity is operating the clinic.

Ferdman closes his letter by asking, “what’s more important – Acacia’s entry into the upstate market or the stability of a neighborhood people have built over the last 20 years?”

In many ways, the “stability” that Ferdman refers to has been the result of HUB’s presence in the area and service to West Side residents.

My brother Raul Russi, CEO of Acacia Network, is a decorated Buffalo police officer who was injured in the line of duty and served as the lead officer to successfully fight for cleaning up the West Side of the drug scourge of the 1980s. I share my brother’s strong commitment to maintaining needed services for the marginalized members of Buffalo’s West Side, hence our affiliation with Acacia Network.

Additionally, the insinuation that a methadone clinic will threaten the “stability” of the neighborhood runs counter to published evidence. Data show that methadone clinics “are not a geographic focus of crime, thus providing both strong evidence to alleviate neighborhood concerns about the establishment and operation of [methadone treatment centers] and quantitative information to combat the stigma of methadone substitution treatment.”

There is a drug crisis in our city that is already overpowering our capacity for treatment. HUB will not stand by and watch our neighbors die.

Eugenio Russi is executive director of Hispanics United of Buffalo.