Amber Maines took to social media last week to express dismay that a methadone clinic is coming to a Mitchell Road strip mall – and aggravation that nothing can be done to stop it.
On Monday, back by a large crowd, she took her concerns to the Ceres City Council which explained that the clinic is a done deal as a permitted use in a Community Commercial zone.
Maines suggested the clinic would be a magnet for undesirable people, many who would be coming from out of town. The company, however, has indicated to the city that many of those using the clinic will be Ceres residents.
“Opening this clinic in the middle of our community will tarnish all progress we have made."Amber Maines
“Opening this clinic in the middle of our community will tarnish all progress we have made,” charged Maines, who suggested treatment options should be made available in industrial areas only.
She told the council that she scoped out a McHenry Avenue methadone clinic for two hours and observed a domestic disturbance, a person sleeping in their car and one woman spit out her medication to save for later.
A host of other citizens took their turns to voice their concerns.
City officials explained that the Aegis Treatment Center is allowed as a permitted use and that the city cannot stop current tenant improvements from being made.
City Attorney Tom Hallinan said the city does not have the discretion to turn away a business that meets the zoning designation requirements. Doing so, he said, could result in a lawsuit being filed against the city.
“There’s really nothing that we can do and we would be litigated against and likely lose,” said Mayor Chris Vierra, who added his concerns as well. He pledged to address the issues of methadone clinic in future zoning ordinance changes.
Community Development Director Tom Westbrook said the city cannot legally stop Aegis Treatment Center from operating in the commercial zone because permitted uses include medical offices. The same building includes Tower Physical Therapy and DaVita’s Ceres Dialysis clinic in addition to Angel Nails & Spa and Godspeed Barber Shop.
One year ago representatives of Aegis approached the city looking for a place in Ceres, stating their preference was for Turlock, said Westbrook, but Ceres as a backup for demand for such a service and alleviate pressure to meet demand at its Modesto clinic. The city encouraged Aegis to seek out a Turlock facility, he said, but lost the opportunity for a lease. They came back to Ceres, opting for the strip mall on the east side of Mitchell Road just south of Walmart.
“From the city’s perspective the zoning designation is Community Commercial and medical offices are allowed,” said Westbrook. “Because it was an existing building, they just go and get a tenant improvement for any improvements that they want to make on the inside of the building and there’s no requirement for a Planning Commission or a City Council meeting; they’re just a permitted use.”
He said Aegis would not be subject to any special requirements that any other business, such as an apparel shop, would be.
The city has the option to require all methadone clinics to seek a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) with its required public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council but Hallinan said any changes to the Zoning Ordinance would apply to future developments, not the current one. As with any business operating under a CUP, the city would have control to revoke the permit if problems arise and are not dealt with.
While residents did not get an answer they came for, the city informed them that Aegis will present a special public meeting at the Ceres Community Center at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5. The company will present information and answer questions about the clinic.
Because the city had no experience with methadone clinics, a year ago Westbrook and City Manager Toby Wells checked out the Aegis facility in Modesto and checked with other communities where they operate. Westbrook said they found none of the cities had problems arise in connection with the clinics.
According to American Addiction Centers’ website, a methadone clinic is a place where a person who is addicted to opioid-based drugs, such as heroin or prescription painkillers, can receive medication-based therapy. Patients receive methadone, or the brand name version known as Dolophine, which is an opioid analgesic. This treatment is often referred to as replacement therapy.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, methadone can be administered as a pill or in liquid and wafer forms. It is used to prevent the onset of opioid withdrawal and, via the phenomenon of cross-tolerance development with regular use, block the effects of opiate pain medications, including morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and other semi-synthetic opioids. Although the treatment must be prescribed by a doctor, it is not a cure for addiction issues. It is nonetheless considered effective during the treatment and rehabilitation process as part of a comprehensive treatment program.
Treatment provided at a clinic has several effects. People who have visited one may see the following benefits.
• A reduction or avoidance of opioid withdrawal symptoms;
• A decrease in opioid cravings;
• Blocking of the effects of illicit opioids;
• Ceasing of a physical need for illicit or otherwise abused opioid substances, so a person can function normally day-to-day
A June 2018 Manteca Bulletin column written by Jason Campbell reflected on a similar outrage in the San Joaquin County city when somebody found out that Aegis had been operating there for five years.
“Let me just state, unequivocally, that the kinds of people who show up at a methadone clinic every day to receive treatment by and large are not the same people who are breaking into your car,” wrote Campbell. “It’s just illogical to think that. They’re going to places like Aegis so that they don’t have to break into your car anymore. They’re getting the medical attention that they need so that they don’t have to score much more dangerous drugs on the street and attempt to corral an unsustainable habit.” His article concluded with: “…we’re lucky that we have something like that here to help those that want to make a change.”