Methadone Clinics at Odds Over Efforts to Relieve Stresses on Area

By Seth Daniel

When Mayor Martin Walsh made comments last week in a radio piece on WBUR that he was frustrated with the lack of effort by Methadone Clinics in the Worcester Square and Newmarket area, it came as a bit of a surprise to some of those clinics – who said this week they have made significant changes since first being invited to the table to address the Methadone Mile problems last year.

Walsh, who now calls the area Recovery Road, told WBUR last week that he believes the clinics in the area overmedicate their clients and get “played.” He also said he didn’t have the patience to work with the clinics any longer.

He also said to WBUR he was concerned that they don’t do a good enough job tracking their clients after they are treated, part of a good neighbor policy that most clinics require of their clients. That has been a concern of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) for the better part of 18 months.

Many WSANA meetings have focused on that issue, including a very intense meeting last year where representatives from the HabitOpCo were confronted by the neighborhood. That brought what seemed to be a new cooperation from the clinics, where they began to correspond with WSANA, and more importantly, work closer with the multi-jurisdictional Opiate Task Force headed up by Jen Tracey of the Office of Recovery Services.

This week, JoAnn Forson of HabitOpCo said they have made some significant changes since last fall when they were invited to the table to help become part of the solution.

She said she was a bit surprised by the comments of the mayor, but didn’t want to comment so much on that as she wanted the community to know what her clinic has been doing.

“Since we last met, we contracted to have security out in the neighborhood,” she said. “Additionally, we have our Nurse Practitioner on the property to go around with security to get a sense of where our outpatients are going. What we find is when we do see patients hanging out with no purpose, we’re bringing them back. We talk to them and review our good neighbor policy and have them sign it. We let them know if they continue to hang out, we could discharge. We’ve really beefed that aspect up…We continue to try to do the best we can.”

On Monday, Walsh told the Sun his comments reflected a frustration that the clinics are not moving quick enough to push clients to get services in the cities and towns where they actually live. He said too many people are coming from out of town to congregate in one place – the South End – when they could get the same services closer to home.

“My concern is there are large numbers of people using Methadone here in the City of Boston that don’t live in the City of Boston,” he said. “What I’d like to see is if some of these clinics could treat some of the people that come from other towns in their towns and not have them all congregate into one area. I mean, 90 percent of the people that use the Methadone Clinics, we don’t see them. They come in, they get their treatment, and then the go home or to work…We want to be able to relieve a little bit of pressure…There are a lot of programs in this (South End) neighborhood, but not every program should have to treat every single person that has a heroin problem. I think there has to be an opportunity to spread that around a little bit.”

Forson said HabitOpCo, which serves about 700 people a day, has begun to address that very problem. She said they now speak with patients who are coming to the clinic from out of town.

“When we do our intake, we talk to them about referring them to a clinic closer to where they live or we make referrals to another clinic,” she said. “We try to get them connected to quality treatment closer to where they live and work. That conversation is part of our assessment with all our patients now.”

She said they have also instituted counseling at the clinic seven days a week recently.

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