Addiction clinic plan stirs unease
Downtown neighbors see parking, image woes
A Western Massachusetts-based medical practice that provides treatment for drug addiction hopes to open an office in downtown Natick this month, but neighbors worry the facility could burden parking and hurt the town’s image.
Dr. Omar Faruk, medical director of Experience Wellness Centers, said he wants to open the branch at 14 West Central St. because the area has shown the need for addiction therapy.
However, Patrick Reffett, Natick’s community development director, said Experience Wellness must first submit an application to the building commissioner to determine whether the practice would comply with a variance passed in 1950. If not, the organization must then present its case to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
Patricia DePeau, central operations coordinator for Experience Wellness, said she thinks Natick is requesting the application to quiet the outcry against the center.
“We’d like something in writing saying we have to apply for the building permit,’’ DePeau said.
“This is the fourth city we’ve gone into in Massachusetts, and we have never been asked for a building permit before,’’ she said.
DePeau said the practice plans to cooperate with the town, but “at the same time, we want to stand up for what’s right.’’ The other Experience Wellness centers are in Springfield, Pittsfield, and Worcester.
Reffett said the town expects all nonconforming properties to undertake the process as uses, owners, or occupants change.
Experience Wellness specializes in prescribing suboxone, a drug used to wean addicts off opioids like heroin and oxycodone, and requires patients to receive mental health counseling.
The practice differs from traditional drug-addiction treatment clinics in that the patients fill their prescriptions at a pharmacy and take their medication at home.
“This is not a methadone clinic. This is a doctor’s office,’’ Faruk said, adding that he also sees patients for issues such as weight management. “This is a thing where people have the right to get treated anywhere.’’
However, some neighboring residents and businesses contend that the center would be detrimental to the community.
Karen Connell, a Southborough resident who works in downtown Natick, said there is already a suboxone clinic in Natick and West Central Street would not be a good location for another.
“It’s too close to residential areas, it’s not zoned for that type of use, and it’s exploiting people for money,’’ Connell said.
“There isn’t enough parking in downtown Natick, and this is inviting another 200 people each day to a property with no parking,’’ she said. “It would be a burden on the community.’’
Stephen Weinstein, owner of Hometown Paint and Hardware on South Main Street, said the addition of an addiction-treatment center would be counterproductive to efforts to revitalize Natick’s downtown.
“I think the impact would not be a positive one to have a drug clinic in the downtown mixed between pizza shops, Chinese takeout, jewelry shops, and hardware stores,’’ Weinstein said.
“It’s simply for the welfare of the downtown business district, which is the economic engine of the town,’’ he said. “We want to encourage people to come walk around after hours.’’
Faruk said he and the other Experience Wellness doctors are licensed through the federal government to prescribe suboxone, and adhere to the requirements of the federal Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000.
The law allows physicians with additional training to prescribe suboxone in a private office setting to a maximum of 100 patients at any one time, according to Massachusetts Department of Public Health spokeswoman Jennifer Manley.
Currently, approximately 950 doctors in Massachusetts are licensed to prescribe suboxone, Manley said.
Faruk said their licenses set a 100-patient cap per doctor, and that Experience Wellness reserves the right to withhold treatment from clients who are suicidal or exhibit disorderly conduct.
“We have to sign a lot of contracts according to federal law,’’ Faruk said. If patients are disruptive “or violating anything, we are not bound to keep them.’’
Faruk said the Natick clinic would start with one doctor, and continue increasing doctors - and therefore, patients - as time progresses.
“This is humanity - treating people and helping people,’’ he said.
The building, valued at almost $500,000, is zoned by the town as a residential building with a use variance passed in 1950 to allow professional offices and a waiting room on the first floor.
“As soon as their information is provided to the building inspector, he will be reviewing it, but it has not yet been received,’’ Reffett said.
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.