WILKES-BARRE — Most everyone agrees that Luzerne County is in the grip of a deadly opioid epidemic that is killing off residents by the dozens.
But when it comes to treating the very people who are dying, most everyone wants that care to happen somewhere other than where they live.
When the Miners Medical Center opened as a methadone clinic in Ashley, residents began circulating a petition to shut it down and the borough zoning officer sent a cease-and-desist letter alleging violation of the borough zoning ordinance. Earlier this month, a similar scene unfolded at an Exeter Twp. Board of Supervisors meeting, where residents came out in force to oppose turning the shuttered Sarah J. Dymond Elementary School into a drug treatment center.
Jason Harlen, chief executive of Wyoming Valley Alcohol & Drug Services, said the phenomenon is common for drug treatment centers — residents are worried about crime and property values.
“It’s a definite legitimate concern for the individuals who reside there,” Harlen said. “Unfortunately, those people that are actually addicted are already in their backyards. So it’s kind of a conundrum.”
A study published in 2016 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs examined the phenomenon by comparing violent crime rates around drug treatment centers, liquor stores, convenience stores and corner stores in Baltimore.
The study found that violent crime was “significantly higher” around liquor stores and corner stores than around the treatment centers, and that there was no statistically significant difference between the areas around the treatment centers and convenience stores.
“In conclusion, (drug treatment centers) have an unfairly poor reputation as being magnets for crime and a threat to community safety that is not backed up by empirical evidence,” wrote the researchers, who were from Johns Hopkins University. “By contrast, other community businesses that have a more pronounced magnetic effect on crime are often solicited by communities to locate within their neighborhoods.”
Harlen said that while he understands the concern neighborhood residents might have about treatment facilities, he thinks the good the centers do for patients “far outweighs” the negatives.
“Is there the potential for something to happen? Sure,” Harlen said. “But I guarantee you that 99.9 percent of the people that come out of those doors are going to be much better than when they walked in there.”
Luzerne County currently has just two methadone clinics — Miners Medical and CHOICES in Plains Twp. — but there are a number of other programs that offer treatment, including other medications such as Suboxone. Still, Harlen said he doesn’t think it’s enough to meet the need.
“There are a ton of facilities available to help people with addiction. There’s a lot of resources out there. Will we ever have enough? No, I don’t think so,” Harlen said. “I think if five rehabs were to open today, it wouldn’t be enough.”
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