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Neighbors Tie Problems To Opening Of New Methadone Clinic

People in a neighborhood of Springfield, Massachusetts say their quality of life has suffered greatly since a methadone clinic opened earlier this year. 

In the last few months, residents and business owners in the South End neighborhood of Springfield say they have witnessed an increase in break-ins and burglaries, more acts of prostitution, aggressive panhandling, and evidence of drug use such as bloody syringes left in restrooms.

Walter Kroll, a landlord in the neighborhood, said the changes coincided with the opening of the Habit OPCO methadone clinic in a shopping center on Mill Street.

"It is a very different neighborhood than it was 90 days ago," said Kroll, who along with about a half dozen other people, spoke at a hearing by the Springfield City Council Public Safety Committee.

Judith Crowell, who has lived on Mill Street for 17 years, said she’s come home recently to find strangers sitting on her porch and has seen people on the street who appear to be intoxicated or high.

"And it is not that you are against the clinic, its just that we have so many,"  said Crowell. "Why couldn't they put it somewhere else?"

Neighborhood activists and city officials say there is at least one other methadone clinic that has operated in the South End for several years without incident.  There are also a number of so-called sober houses in the neighborhood.  The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department opened an addiction treatment center on Mill Street in 2016.

Leo Florian, president of the South End Citizens Council, said officials at the Habit OPCO clinic have snubbed invitations to neighborhood meetings.

" We had two public meetings that they were invited to. They didn't show up," said Florian.  He said he's heard that representatives of the clinic have offered city officials a tour of the facility. 

" Honestly, I don't care how its run as far as what they do inside.  We're concerned about what is happening outside," said Florian.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he, also, has  been unable to schedule a meeting with anyone from the clinic.

"They should come to the table," said Sarno. 

Messages left at a phone number for the Habit OPCO clinic seeking comment for this story were not returned.

Local officials have little say over where methadone clinics and half-way houses can operate because of federal and state laws that forbid discrimination against people with disabilities, which includes drug addiction.

City Councilor Melvin Edwards complains that well-intended laws have had unintended consequences.

"It was not intended for people to create a new industry, and what we are seeing now is the affect of an industry of group homes and sober-living and these types of  facilities concentrated in older neighborhoods," said Edwards.

Springfield police say they’ve stepped up patrols in the neighborhood and will work to come up with a sustainable strategy to address the problems.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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