Major Meeting Looks at Suboxone Program at South End Health Center

By Seth Daniel

It started with a mere mention during the South End Forum on Sept. 6.

South End Neighborhood Health Center (SENHC) CEO Bill Walczak announced that the health center was going to add addiction recovery programming to its services. The one-minute announcement was buried in a 30-minute presentation about new physicians being hired at the SENHC.

That fateful minute has turned into a lot more words than anticipated as many residents – especially those closer to the Methadone Mile in Worcester Square and Blackstone/Franklin have turned up the volume on the proposal – calling for a neighborhood-wide meeting last night, Sept. 28, at the clinic.

The results of that meeting came too late for Sun deadlines, but there was an expectation that a large turnout would be found.

Already, Walczak and his medical director, Dr. Greg Culley of Washington Street, have attended two neighborhood association meetings to clarify their Suboxone program and their position.

However, neighbors are very skeptical in an area that has been inundated with homeless shelters, Methadone Clinics and drug activity. Many are wary that the new program might stretch the Mile an additional mile to Washington Street.

At Tuesday’s Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA), Culley said Suboxone is very different than Methadone. He said there would be about 30 patients in the federal grant-funded program, most of them being existing patients. He said the City had pushed them to get into the service.

“We are not starting a Methadone program,” he said emphatically at WSANA. “We have a federal grant to do Suboxone. It is very different than Methadone. It doesn’t get people high and they don’t have to come to take it every day. It requires people to sign an agreement to submit to urine tests and other tests. We’re starting with only 30 patients and many are our exiting patients. I live in the neighborhood and understand the problem. I see the needles and I see the drug people. We’re trying to do our civic duty to help. It is not Methadone. Suboxone is not Methadone.”

Suboxone is a prescription drug that is given to patients who are sober and wish to maintain their sobriety. Like Methadone, it is a maintenance drug, but many physicians have moved to preferring Suboxone because it doesn’t require daily visits and is prescribed. It is also, many have said, less likely to be combined with other drugs to produce a high – which is a persistent problem in Methadone treatments.

“People are coming from out of town to our neighborhood because we have three Methadone Clinics right here in our little corner, and now we are going to be talking about a fourth one on Washington Street,” said Andy Brand of WSANA.

Councilor Frank Baker also said he had some concerns, noting that the community had been a bit “blindsided” by the proposal.

“I’m concerned about that,” he said. “I’m concerned with adding more services because we have a lot of services and I think we need to get ahead of this one before it gets out of hand,” he said.

At the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association meeting on Sept. 20, Walczak made a preliminary presentation also, and neighbors were hesitant.

President Eric Huang said there was cautious support for the plan at the meeting, though there were strong voices adamantly against the plan. Many, he said, were worried about the pills hitting the streets, and that the additional program would attract loitering and problems into Blackstone from the Methadone Mile. There was also the argument that the South End is already overburdened with such facilities and doesn’t need another.

“I think better education about the plan and the supporting research behind it will go along way to allay neighbors’ fears,” he said.

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