Jungle juice in the 'Couv
I saw a story on the tube the other night about the upset neighbors of the new methadone clinic that's about to open in the Salmon Creek area of Clark County, Washington. The clinic will bring scores, if not hundreds, of heroin addicts -- all supposedly recovering, but some not -- into the neighborhood in the dark hours of the early morning most days every week. There the clients will drink their daily doses of methadone, a synthetic opiate that is highly addictive and fatal if misused, under supervision. The joy juice lets them function without heroin. (It's not to be confused with meth, which is another drug entirely.) They're also supposed to get counselling, but just ask them -- it's mostly about the juice.
The opening of the Clark County clinic is good news for Portland's Buckman neighborhood, which for years has unwillingly hosted hundreds of Washington State heroin addicts on their daily methadone runs. Back in 1986, the Clark County commissioners passed an ordinance that prohibited methadone clinics from operating within its borders. Thus, many addicts had to come to Portland from as far away as Central Washington State if they needed methadone. From 1986 to 2004, the nearest methadone clinic north of Portland was in Tacoma.
I know about this because I lived in Buckman when a private, for-profit methadone clinic sneaked into a Belmont Street storefront there over Christmas of 1997. I was among the neighbors who, like the neighbors of the soon-to-open Clark County operation, set up a picket line to show how displeased we were with our new neighbors. In our case, the siting of the methadone dispensary was particularly galling, because the neighborhood was given no notice at all of the relocation of the clinic from the Hollywood district, which was all too happy to see it go. The city washed its hands of the matter; I remember the Scone coming down and making his pained face for us one day, but he didn't do anything to help us. Multnomah County (which funds much of the methadone treatment) quietly promoted the site (I believe Mr. Lolenzo Poe was in on that one); and the State of Oregon growled a little but didn't want to stop it, and couldn't as a practical matter.
Anyway, I moved out of there a year later, and my long protest story isn't worth retelling in its entirety here. (Suffice it to say there were several outrages besides the stealth siting, including a medical director who was a raging alcoholic with an obscene monetary conflict of interest.) Methadone wasn't the only thing that prompted the move out of Buckman, anyway.
What's noteworthy now is that the opening of the new Clark County clinic is exactly what I and my then-neighbor Mark Senffner urged the Clark County commissioners to bring about when we testified before them in the spring of 1998. Senffner and I drove up to the 'Couv one weekday morning to urge the local solons to repeal their ordinance which made it illegal for anyone to operate a methadone clinic in Clark County.
Because of the Clark County ordinance, at that time an estimated 160 drug addicts journeyed to Portland on a daily basis to take methadone -- about 60 of them on county welfare funds. Dozens of them came to the clinic on Belmont, which brought an estimated 400 addicts overall into the neighborhood. (And Buckman hosted a second one on Burnside Street, too.) Many of them showed up in taxis, and the number of cars of all kinds with Washington plates that pulled up to that place was astonishing.
The Clark County commissioners politely told us they would have their mental health advisory panel look into the possibility of changing their ordinance. The stated reasoning behind the county law was that Clark County did not have a heroin problem, and that it did not support methadone as a means of treatment. With the growth of the Vancouver area, and a rise in heroin use there, these circumstances had clearly changed. Anyway, as far as I know Clark County never did get around to changing its ban.
But Washington State officials in Olympia strongly supported a push to open a clinic in Vancouver and stop the daily flow of drug addiction problems across the river to Portland. In 2001, the Washington legislature made it illegal for counties to ban methadone within their borders; at that point, the Clark County ordinance became void.
The first Clark County methadone clinic opened a little over a year ago. And now a second one is going to happen. Good for Washington State taxpayers, good for Clark County, and good for Portland neighborhoods.
Bad for the Salmon Creek neighbors. Not as bad as they think it will be, but very unsightly, and very sad. Methadone's supposed to be the treatment of last resort, because it's so addictive. There are other treatment options that are supposed to be tried first. But methadone's relatively cheap, if you don't have to taxi people all over the state to get it, and it's the easy way out. Private clinic operators make a nice living keeping people hooked on it. State and local social workers love it, as it makes their lives much easier.
Most of the methadone patients lie very low on their way in and out of the clinics. They hate being there (as Neil Young once sang, "She hates her life and what she's done to it"). And some of them are there on the major QT -- they would lose out big time, career-wise or socially, if word got out that they were reformed junkies. They'll creep in and out of the 'hood very quietly at 4 and 5 in the morning.
But there will be a few wise a*ses in the crowd. A few will sit on your lawn while the methadone buzz kicks in. A few will head from the clinic every day straight to the nearest convenience store, and down a 40-ounce malt liquor on top of the juice. A noticeable percentage will not really be off illegal drugs just because they take methadone. Most of them drive in and out, which really makes you wonder about safety, since methadone is a powerful drug. They park illegally. And as heroin users, they're all admitted felons.
They're there nearly every day. The Belmont shop was (and still is, for all I know) open Monday to Saturday (at least they knocked off right after lunch). Few patients got take-home doses, a situation which led to the sustained daily traffic flow. You don't know which is worse -- the clean-cut ones, who you suspect could get off smack with something less destructive, or the long-time veterans, whose bodies are ravaged.
The neighbors up north are right to be wary. And if you ask me, some picketing in the early days of the clinic's operation is actually a healthy thing for everyone involved. But get used to it, folks. As long as there are clients, that clinic is going to stick to that location like glue. Put a smile on your face and live with it, or do like we did and call your realtor.
As for the methadone clinic operators in Portland, who will lose even more paying customers -- well, it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people.