hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

January 16, 2014

Editorial: Methadone clinic fight show need to change law

The Haverhill Gazette

---- — A group of residents in Plaistow and Atkinson has launched an online petition campaign opposing a proposed methadone clinic in Haverhill at the New Hampshire line.

Haverhill residents can and should join them, especially because the petition is directed toward Massachusetts lawmakers.

At issue is the methadone-dispensing clinic that Spectrum Health Systems has already started working on after being given a building permit by Haverhill last summer. The permit allows it to renovate the former Children’s Learning Center at 100 Plaistow Road, on the edge of a shopping plaza straddling the Massachusetts-New Hampshire line.

Spectrum contends that under Massachusetts law it is not subject to Haverhill zoning restrictions or special permit rules because it is a nonprofit educational organization that offers drug counseling and other services as well as methadone.

Spectrum may have a point the way the law stands and has made it clear to Haverhill officials that it has fought off other challenges in the past and is prepared to defend itself again.

But that doesn’t mean the law that allows it to set up a drug dispensary catering to addicts in a retail district under the banner of education makes any sense.

“It isn’t neighborly what they’re doing,” said Susan Caron of Plaistow, one of the organizers of the petition drive.

The petition aims to change the law that Spectrum says enables it to locate its clinic anywhere it wants. Mayor Fiorentini has said he has hired an outside law form for a possible legal fight but has not elaborated.

The petition reads in part:

“As residents of this area, we are sympathetic to those individuals who suffer from the plague of heroin addiction. However, we believe that our elected officials need to be part of the process of determining the need for this type of clinic and the location. Spectrum Healthcare is using a 60 year old legislative loophole to open this clinic without ANY PUBLIC DISCOURSE.

“The name of the law is the ‘Dover Amendment’. This law was enacted by the Mass legislature in the 1950’s to prevent towns from enacting discriminatory zoning regulations. At the time, the law was specifically addressing housing discrimination. However the wording of this law was broad, and also included any organizations that were non-profit and ‘educational’. ...

“We are certain that the architects of the ‘Dover Amendment’ did not anticipate that this law would be used to open a Methadone clinic into busy, suburban shopping district.”

More than 300 people have signed the online petition, including many from Haverhill. The petition can be found online at change.org/organizations/stop_methadone_clinic.

We agree that drug treatment needs to be more readily available to help stem the tide of opiate addiction.

But it’s clear that the original intent of the law has been distorted and a legislative solution is needed to give communities a greater say in where facilities such as the one proposed by Spectrum can be located.

We urge the lawmakers to whom the petition is addressed to give it serious consideration and weigh their options.

Those lawmakers include state Reps. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, Lenny Mirra of West Newbury, Diana DiZoglio and Linda Dean Campbell of Methuen and state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives of Newburyport.