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Andrew Square neighbors confront methadone clinic

Posted by Cara Bayles  February 10, 2011 09:43 AM

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The stumbling walk is called "the lean."

In Andrew Square, residents have come to recognize the drugged-out shuffle of methadone patients who congregate in the area's Dunkin Donuts and Tedeschi's.

Andrew Square, a transportation hub for buses and the Red Line at its MBTA station, is walking distance from a methadone clinic on Frontage Road, as well as the Habit/Opco drug treatment clinic and Boston Medical Center, both just across the Southeast Expressway in Roxbury. Some area residents also suspect the patients have added recreational drugs or alcohol to their legal methadone dosage.

"They're almost crawling when they come up the street," said Linda Zablocki, president of the Andrew Square Civic Association. "There's no way they were in good condition when they left the clinic, no way. They're holding each other up before they're even over the bridge. Where does the responsibility lie when they're out that door."

David Chubb, of Tech Networks on Dorchester Avenue, said he had to keep his door locked, and that he'd kicked people out for "doing illegal activity" in the store.

"People are just so high in the square … it's affecting our business," he said.

During a meeting of the neighborhood's civic association on Wednesday, Ed Demarquez, manager at the Habit/Opco clinic on Topeka Street, fielded questions from residents about the level of supervision his patients receive.

Opco, a drug treatment clinic, serves 850 clients who sign an agreement not to use other drugs upon intake. Patients are also required to get counseling, and the Department of Public Health requires 15 drug tests over the course of the first year of treatment. The clinic is accredited, and boasts a 92 percent success rate among patients in treatment for over one year.

Neighbors and clinic representatives at the meeting concurred that the square's drifters represent a very small portion of the clinic's clients, and that when methadone is taken properly, without other recreational drugs, it's undetectable in a patient's behavior.

"I think everyone here agrees with you that there's a need for services of this sort," said Denise Lynch, the Andrew Square association's treasurer. "The problem we're having here is that there doesn't seem to be any supervision. There are a large number of your clients that are coming into the square. Businesses near the square have been complaining for quite some time."

Demarquez pointed out that there was no way the residents knew that the offenders in Andrew Square were from his clinic, or were on methadone at all. But he admitted that a small percentage of clients were probably mixing their drugs.

"I'm not going to deny what you're talking about, because I know it exists," he said. "Am I going to sit here and tell you that when our patients come to the window at that particular time look well enough to get their medication, then enter into the bathroom, pop a pill, walk into the street and then all of a sudden have that pill kick in … I'm not going to sit here and deny that."

Residents discussed the possibility of taking pictures of offenders, or calling clinic staff when they spotted someone who was too high, but privacy laws prohibit the clinic from identifying one of its clients publicly. Others suggested that Opco, as a for-profit company with clinics across the northeast, should hire community workers to supervise the square during the clinic's business hours.

Demarquez said he was in the process of helping create a taskforce for similar problems in Newmarket Square, another problem area.

"Two years ago, there was an issue with the same folks congregating outside the McDonald's on Hampton Street," he said. "We had staff go over to the McDonalds … it became an issue for us when it ended up not being our clients."

Opco has met with the Suffolk Sherriff's office, he said, and was in the process of building a coalition of service agencies to meet about the problem. He said they could extend the taskforce to Andrew Square or create a similar group for the neighborhood.

E-mail Cara Bayles at carabayles@gmail.com.

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