by Joseph Gresser
copyright the Chronicle 2-20-2013
NEWPORT — An issue that aldermen thought they had settled more than seven years ago returned Monday night and reawakened many of the old passions. Some neighbors of the Bay Area Addiction Research and Treatment (BAART) clinic on Union Street strongly opposed allowing methadone to be dispensed at the site, and Aldermen John Wilson and Robert Baraw seemed dubious, at best, about the proposal.
Others, including Mayor Paul Monette and former Newport Police Chief Paul Duquette, strongly supported the plan to centralize BAART’s services. The most moving statement was given by Maureen Fountain, who told how her husband and two other men were killed in a car accident when a heroin addict fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into their car. Ms. Fountain said her experience makes her favor the BAART plan.
Alan Aiken of BAART told the city council that recent work on Coventry Street has made that street unsafe for patients who walk to the present treatment site. BAART dispenses methadone from a van parked at the city’s recycling center just off Coventry Street, and Mr. Aiken said that patients who walk to get treatment are at risk of being struck by fast-moving traffic.
He suggested that it would make more sense to begin providing methadone to clients at the organization’s clinic on Union Street. During the course of the discussion, Mr. Aiken pointed out that he had come to the council to let them know of his plans, not to ask permission.
When it opened, he noted, the clinic was granted a permit by the planning commission to operate as a clinic. Alderman Denis Chenette, who served for many years on that commission, agreed with Mr. Aiken’s interpretation of the rules.
Some of those who questioned the move pointed to a recent, unsuccessful, attempt by an unknown gunman to rob the Union Street clinic of its methadone supply. One woman, who declined to give her name to the press, said she has kept her doors locked for the seven years the clinic has been open and has been especially vigilant since the robbery attempt on January 23.
When the aldermen gave permission for BAART to set up in Newport seven and a half years ago, neighbors of the Union Street clinic vehemently objected to having methadone dispensed there. As a compromise, BAART agreed to set up a mobile clinic early each morning at the Coventry Street site.
Mr. Aiken argued that the current situation has no advantages. All BAART patients have to come to Union Street at least once a month for counseling and evaluation, he said, and there have been no complaints by neighbors since the clinic opened its doors.
He said that when construction on Coventry Street prevented access to the recycling center, methadone treatment was moved temporarily to Union Street without any complaints from neighbors.
The mobile dispensary, he said, was originally conceived as a unit that could travel around Orleans County treating addicts in several towns, but it was quickly discovered that people in treatment tend to have jobs and are not able to leave work in the middle of the day to get a dose of methadone.
When the clinic opened, Mr. Aiken said, most of the people it treated were heroin addicts. Today 90 to 95 percent are seeking help for addiction to prescription drugs, he said.
In supporting the idea of moving the dispensary to Union Street Mr. Duquette picked up on Mr. Aiken’s description of the clinic’s clientele.
“These people are not lepers, they don’t have a second head coming out of their backs,” he said. “You’d be surprised.”
He said combining all the services in one place is just common sense.
Mr. Wilson said he is upset that Mr. Aiken is seeking to change a situation that he thought has worked well over the past seven and a half years. If there is now a problem with pedestrian safety, BAART should have come to the council looking for better lighting on the road, or a new sidewalk.
If neither of those solutions could be arranged, he asked, why had BAART not looked for a new home away from a residential area?
Craig Monfette, who said he operates a day care center not far from the clinic, agreed. He said there are four day care centers and two schools in the neighborhood. He reminded council members and Mr. Aiken of the outcry from the neighborhood when dispensing on Union Street was first proposed.
“We got everyone out,” he said. “We can do it again.”
He said he and his neighbors were disturbed by the robbery attempt and said that a determined person could overcome any precautions the clinic might put in place.
“These are our security concerns.” Mr. Monfette said. “They haven’t changed. They never will.”
Phil Laramee, a neighbor, seconded Mr. Monfette’s concerns. He said it was lucky that the receptionist at BAART was able to “BS” the gunman into believing there were no drugs at the clinic.
Cathy Dubois said Mr. Laramee was incorrect about what happened at the clinic. She said she was the person who faced the gunman.
“I didn’t BS him,” she said. “I told the truth, that I didn’t have access to any methadone.”
Ms. Dubois said that new security measures that will be part of an already planned renovation of the clinic would have kept the robber from leaving the clinic, had he even been able to get in.
These would include a panic button, she said, that would summon police “in a heartbeat.”
Others pointed out that there have been robberies at North Country Hospital, and the Cumberland Farms store has been held up seven times, without calls for restricting mini-marts in residential neighborhoods.
Mayor Monette said he changed his mind about moving the clinic a month and a half ago. For the seven years of its existence, he said, “I was dead set against” dispensing on Union Street.
Recent visits to the van and to the clinic led him to believe that it would be more efficient to have the whole program in one place “like a pharmacy.”
Treading carefully to avoid identifying any of the program’s participants, Mr. Monette said, “they are people gainfully employed working in the community and paying taxes.”
Ms. Fountain told a hushed room that her support for the clinic came directly from her own experiences. She said the man who killed her husband had taken a large amount of heroin the day before the accident.
He went to a clinic in Burlington, she said, and was given a dose of methadone, but was allowed to drive away in violation of proper practice.
She said she was encouraged to have a face-to-face meeting with the man by the Department of Corrections and despite her trepidations, did so. She was told not to expect much response from the man, Ms. Fountain said, but the two spoke for four hours.
She said she maintained a relationship with the man over the years, but after nine and a half years, she said, “I blew up.”
“I told him, ‘You killed three men, destroyed three families,’ and that he needed to get help,” Ms. Fountain said. “Miracle of miracles, he did.”
Ms. Fountain said the man has been in treatment for a year and a half. She said she could tell that it had been successful. “He was a different person.”
She said the man has been released on probation. Should he get in trouble, she said, the police would call her immediately. So far, she said, there have been no calls.
“You have to stand up and look at it as a public health issue,” Ms. Fountain said. “They need your support. They’re challenged every single day.”
Ms. Fountain said that after her husband’s death she promised herself that she would take every opportunity to keep this from ever happening again.
“I’m not talking as a medical person,” Ms. Fountain said, “I’m speaking as a widow.”
contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]