Some neighborhoods are politically exempt from drug treatment centers, official says

University of Maryland staff provide some answers as to why a methadone clinic was sited in southwest Baltimore.

BSAS meeting 1, 3-22

John Spearman, senior vice president at UM Medical Center, and Tony Lehman, chair of psychiatry, listen to residents protesting the new methadone clinic.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

The University of Maryland Medical Center was told it was “not acceptable politically” to locate a methadone clinic it operates for the city in some neighborhoods, a top official said last night.

“It got ruled out from above,” John H. Spearman, senior vice president at UMMC, told southwest Baltimore residents seeking answers as to why a Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems (BSAS) facility was located in their neighborhood, which they say has a disproportionate number of treatment clinics.

Pressed to say who made the decision and what neighborhoods are exempt, Spearman said he did not know and would try to find out.

His statement adds to the mystery over how the BSAS clinic found its way to 1001 West Pratt St., adding to an array of drug abuse and social service programs concentrated in a three-block radius.

BSAS is a quasi-government organization that administers the city’s alcohol and drug abuse programs. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sat on the BSAS board when she was president of the City Council, and four members of her administration currently are directors. The mayor’s office has not responded to several requests for comment by The Brew.

“We Were Misled”

The BSAS clinic moved to the building in January, shortly after it was purchased by the Abell Foundation, which also purchased 1101 West Pratt St. that currently houses Baltimore Behavioral Health Inc. (BBH).

Together, the two clinics treat 1,300 substance-abuse patients and the mentally ill. Nearby buildings provide social service and low-income housing services.

Spearman said UMMC had been looking for a new location since 2009 after it was notified that it had to vacate the Walter P. Carter Center at the UMMC campus.

“We were under huge pressure to vacate and relocate,” Spearman said, and many of the buildings it had inspected were physically unsuitable for a clinic.

Then, according to Spearman, UMMC found out that 1001 West Pratt St. was available. “This site just popped up. It fit the patient needs,” he said.

But, he added, “we were misled” into believing that BBH would be vacating the adjacent site.

“We thought we were subtracting, not adding, new issues,” he told the audience, saying that with BBH’s departure, the total number of patients would decline.

“Why Didn’t You Come to Us?”

Residents last night accused UMMC and BSAS of being highly secretive and avoiding contact with the community until citizens staged a protest rally two weeks ago.

“Before we chased you down, why didn’t you come to us,” asked Jane Buccheri, a leader of Southwest Partnership, a coalition that includes the neighborhoods of Mount Clare, Hollins Market, Union Square, Pigtown and Franklin Square.

Residents listen to Jewell Benford, program director of the methadone clinic opened by UMMC for Baltimore's substance abuse program. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Jewell Benford, program director of the BSAS clinic, answers a question from one of the community representatives. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Spearman apologized for not reaching out to the community, and said he and four colleagues were at last night’s meeting to open up a dialogue.

“If you have a specific concern, we’re receptive. We’re willing to work with you,” he said.

Community concerns “must be defined,” he warned, adding at one point: “I suspect you don’t want the program here, period.”

Bif Browning, a resident of Union Square since 2006, told Spearman, “If you’re going to give us problems, also give us benefits.”

He called on the University of Maryland to help restore a grocery store in the neighborhood. Other residents said better policing was needed, either through an extension of campus police patrols or an agreement between UMMC and the Baltimore City Police.

“You carry a lot of weight, and your positive presence should be felt every day,” said Dourakine Rosarion.

If Mayor Rawlings-Blake “wants to get her 10,000 new families,” she added, “she needs to backfill [this neighborhood] because people are moving out.”

“You Have a Long Way to Go”

Chris Taylor, president of the Union Square Association, told the officials, “You have a long way to go  to build trust. . .  I want a socially diverse neighborhood, but I don’t want all the city’s troubles dumped here.”

Betsey Waters, who lives close to the treatment centers on Arlington Ave., insisted that either BSAS or BBH has to vacate. “Having both of these programs is unacceptable,” she said.

Several members said they would press the matter with the Abell Foundation, who sent an observer to the meeting.

Abell president Robert C. Embry Jr. said in an earlier interview with The Brew that the community should take up its concerns with Mayor Rawlings-Blake.

“It’s not our job,” he said. “We just bought the building.” Embry was out of the office and unavailable for comment today.

Nearly Half of Patients Live in Vicinity

Eric Weintraub and Jewell Benford, program directors at BSAS, said they were happy to answer community questions or concerns about the new clinic, but stressed that the clinic was here to stay.

Benford said that 45% of the clinic’s patients live in southwest Baltimore’s 21223 or “contiguous zip codes” (note: there are five such zip codes), and there was a pressing need for more facilities.

Treatment is proven to be more successful if patients live near their treatment facility, he said. He said the clinic “makes a concerted effort to ferret out those misusing their medicines” and disputed the notion that drug sales or nuisance crimes are caused by BSAS patients, who he said are well behaved.

That remark was disparaged and disputed by several speakers. Whether it involved BSAS or BBH patients, open-air drug dealing takes place regularly around Hollins Market just north of the treatment complex, they asserted. “People get drugs very easily around here,” said one speaker.

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  • Barnadine the Pirate

    Few people want such a center in their neighborhood. Show me that 45% of the users come from Roland Park, or Federal Hill, and I’ll support putting it in those neighborhoods, instead.

    • zenith15

      I would have no problem whatever with such a center being across the street from my home. These are human beings with a very very common problem–one which touches almost every family–and 75% of today’s methadone patients are there for treatment to prescribed painkillers rather than IV heroin.   Many patients work in the professions–these people you fear so much may be your doctor’s office nurse, your child’s daycare provider, your mechanic, your lawyer, etc.  Methadone not only does not cause any high or euphoria in stable, tolerant patients, it also blocks the euphoric effects of other opioid drugs.  What, exactly, would be your fear? They they would kidnap your kids and sell them to a baby broker for a fix? That they would pass out on the streetcorner? Pee in the petunias? What?  Most people are in and out lickety split unless they have a counseling session because they have things to do just like everyone else.  They are there for TREATMENT. If they wanted to keep getting high, they would not get on methadone.  It would just be an unnecessary expense that would block the effects of the drugs they like and would not get them high–so why would they do that?

      • Mike

        I have know people who have taken methadone for the first time and have gotten very high. Methadone is a money maker, often a take hOme patient will sell half of what they need daily to sustain themselves. Methadone doesn’t block the ability to get high from heroin in every patient either, Ive had people I love take both because the treatment with methadone is often free and half can be sold to by heroin daily. Methadone treatment is obsolete btw, it’s only around to make money for people and corporations like UMMC. Syboxon is the cure for most addicts, I have a loved one who failed many times on methadone, from almost day one syboxon removed the want for heroin. 15 years as an addict and syboxon ended that an he’s nearly of syboxon after just 3 years on it. Methadone is a life long commitment for most

      • Barnadine the Pirate

        A residential community of ANY type does not need or want a bunch of addicts shuffling in and out all day. It doesn’t make any difference what the zipcode is. At a minimum, it needs to be in an appropriate building in an appropriate (commercial/office) part of the neighborhood. It doesn’t make any difference if every single client is a living saint — it just looks bad, and drives down property values.

        Moreover, the clinic should be located so that it is convenient to the largest number of clients.  A methadone program is not going to be a success if its clients need three bus transfers to get there. Again, show me that the most convenient location for a clinic is Roland Park — most accessible for the most clients, appropriate building and space within the neighborhood — and I’m all for putting the clinic there.  And the same goes for Hunt Valley and Columbia and Gibson Island and anywhere else — put the clinic where the addicts are.

        Lastly, there’s a financial issue. Putting a methadone clinic in an office building near the Charles Center metro stop might make sense, but the rent might be prohibitively expensive in that neighborhood.

        Nobody wants a clinic next door, which is the root of the NIMBY problem. But it has to go somewhere. All I’m saying is, put it where the most addicts are. I have no idea where the most addicts are.  Is it in SW Baltimore? Penn North? Harbel? Canton? Roland Park? I don’t know. Maybe everyone on my block is on methadone, and we should have a clinic in the professional center a few blocks from my house. All I’m saying is that this should be a data-driven decision, and if the data ends up putting more clinics in neighborhoods where there are more addicts and fewer clinics in neighborhoods where there are fewer addicts, so be it.

        (I agree that “in this zipcode or contiguous to it” covers a lot of ground, but I’ll interpret it as meaning “centrally located to the largest number of our clients,” which is all that I’m asking for.)

        There are clinics in Charles Village and Waverly, I believe. And in Timonium.

        • Robert

          The medical literature is more than clear that, for patients to have the best chance of beating their addictions, they should _not_ be an environment rife with other addicts and drug dealers, aka ‘relapse triggers’.  It is the responsibility of ALL Marylanders to help those with drug problems overcome them, and not the sole responsibility of law-abiding residents who are living in areas which are already overburdened with drugs. Putting more addicts into an area already full of addicts is a convenient way for those in wealthier zip codes to avoid any ‘inconvenience’ or ‘discomfort’, but it is NOT in the best interest for the patients.

          • Barnadine the Pirate

            @a8e1e78d34c49210d81176e0d79cf19f:disqus :

            Yes, I think it would be an ADA violation for the city to declare certain neighborhoods “off limits” for clinics.

            However, I think it would be stupid to put a clinic in a place that’s far away and difficult to reach for the service population just in the name of “we’re putting the clinic here because we can.” Addicts don’t need many excuses to not comply with treatment. Why not stick it in a cornfield in Worcester County?

            Do you REALLY think that what “the medical literature” is refering to about “not be[ing in] an environment rife with other addicts” is “leave the neighborhood to go get your methadone, and then go back home to the neighborhood where all the addicts are?” We’re not talking about an inpatient clinic or a residential treatment facility or a halfway house — we’re talking about a methadone clinic.

            What does “the medical literature” say about putting methadone clinics in places that are far away, difficult to find, and hard to get to for most of their clients?

    • Christina Bradley

       To clarify: Federal Hill is in one of the contiguous zipcodes used as their example, so by their argument it would be just as likely there.  And  ANY area should distrust an organization who does not work with the community – and then in a meeting PROMISES that they will.  The community got no promises that were made when BBH moved in and claimed that they would play nice – it’s a matter of “fool me once, shame on you.  fool me twice, shame on me”.  How can there be trust or respect at this point?

    • Anonymous

      Of course.  All public policy is an appropriate response to the local conditions, not at all the result of imbalances in political power.

      There ARE addicts in Roland Park and Federal Hill, and there are also no clinics there.

  • Francis Rahl

    Our relationship with UMUC has had its ups and downs. On the one hand they have finally built on all buildable site to the east of MLK  Blvd, and are developing sites on our side. This is a big change from the days when MLK was constructed and became the defacto end of Baltimore.  Students told be they were advised to not seek housing west of MLK, as if crime couldn’t cross the street. On the other hand, we have these social programs that have also been growing over the years. What’s happening here is the development of a drug and mental health industry that is sure to grow because of the concentration of providers.
    Part of this industry is group housing, a legal (and sometimes illegal) swindle where our large homes are purchased and converted into poorly supervised rooming houses.  The  operators make obscene profits off the taxpayers’ backs while allowing the buildings to fall apart.

  • Adam

    Well, it’s final I’m out of Baltimore and allowing my home to forclose. You loose Baltimore, I’m taking my income outta here. Southwest partnership should wage war on these clinics, don’t accept that they are here to stay. Make those being treated uncomfortable, protest at the clinic during open hours. Go to the homes of the operators, make them feel uncomfortable.

    • Anonymous

      If you think discouraging addicts from treatment is a good idea (because it is, of course, the addicts that chose this location) then we’ll probably be much better without you.

    • Fleeing Baltimore


      A good many people are leaving Baltimore and allowing their house to be foreclosed.  You’re not alone. For further information, follow link: 

      Let the City try to collect taxes from the drug addicts and drug dealers to keep the pools and rec centers open!!

      • But what would I know…

        Fleeing Baltimore:

        He who fights too long against dragons…

        Just a word of caution. Google it.

  • Zenith15

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) , a FEDERAL LAW, states that you cannot zone methadone clinics or limit them any differently than you would any other medical or dental office, urgent care center, etc.  If you want to restrict clinics to only certain parts of the city, you must do the same with all medical offices. Would it be likely that people would be complaining about, say, too many pediatricians in the area, even if it were true? No–the complaints about clinics are based on rumors, fear mongering and lack of information on what methadone IS and what methadone treatment does–and WHO methadone patients ARE.  You can continue to try and block it but it won’t stand up to a lawsuit–it never does.  It’s a violation of the LAW whether you like it or agree with it or not.

    • Robert

      So then it’s a violation of the law for the mayor to state that certain neighborhoods are ‘off limits’ to rehab clinics?

      • Nashorn

        This language is taken from a Ruxton suit to stop Shepherd Pratt from placing a residential treatment facility in the middle of that neighborhood. Sounds like Federal Law pre-empts states and municipalities in order to get these facilities located.

        Garrett Power, a professor emeritus of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, said the  lawsuit is not likely to be successful Federal case law does not distinguish between for-profit or non-profit facilities, and requires state and local governments to make “reasonable accommodations” for mental health facilities, regardless of income level or target market. And no matter what state law might say on the subject, federal law will trump it in court, Power said.

  • Tom Kiefaber

    The Brew reports: “Several members said they would press the matter with the Abell Foundation, who sent an observer to the meeting. Abell president Robert C. Embry Jr. said in an earlier interview with The Brew that the community should take up its concerns with Mayor Rawlings-Blake. “It’s not our job,” he said. “We just bought the building.” Embry was out of the office and unavailable for comment today.

    What a show of arrogance and finger pointing by Embry at our child-Mayor to deflect  Abell’s obvious and cynical culpability.  Why won’t Robert Embry, Baltimore’s very own secretive J. Edgar leverpuller turned gadfly turned dilettante real estate speculator, meet with the community that he trashing as a dumping ground? 

    “Adam” posts: “Go to the homes of the operators, make them feel uncomfortable.”

    I agree and that  course of action has my vote.In bucolic North Baltimore Mr. Embry resides in one of the most exclusive 1%’er enclaves in the State.

     The decision to use foundation funds for this troubled transaction to dump the drug treatment center on the westside was decided without any community input in Abell’s exclusive glass walled penthouse aerie overlooking the inner harbor.  Afterwards the president returned that evening behind tinted windows to a walled historic mansion estate in North Baltimore. As a detached multimillionaire senior citizen, the foundation president has no visceral connection or understanding of the consequences of these devastating blunders. 

    These two worlds could not be more detached from each other, and taking the initiative to travel to Roland Park and put two together is fully justified on the part of a dumped on, fed up public, protesting callous injustice in the great American tradition. 

    This latest outrage and ongoing struggle is a fortuitous opportunity to connect the dots and exercise our citizen rights to peaceful protest. Among Mr. Embry’s fellow, walled-off mansion ensconced neighbors are Baltimore richest and powerful families. A wake-up call as non violent peaceful protest in their community, is long overdue. 

  • Anne Ames

    45% of the clients live in southwest Baltimore or contiguous areas??  That covers quite alot of territory!  I’m wondering tho’ how many clients have come into Baltimore from the counties to buy drugs, been arrested,  jailed and then referred to one of the facilities here.  We know many here who hail from the counties, not southwest Baltimore.   Shouldn’t the counties provide their own treatment facilities?

  • scott verzier

    UMMS has great potential to be a very positive influence in our community, but has yet to make a strong commitment. They should follow the example of Bon Secour.

  • Unellu

    It’s a business–an incantation

    Addictions–big business,
    Treatment for addictions–big business,
    Tit for tat–bad versus good–
    good versus bad–
    good is bad–bad is good–

    Heroin is the heroine of the desperate,
    Cocaine is the craving of the gifted and talented,
    Crystal meth is the quarry of the hunters
    from East to West–
    from North to South–
    so many, from high noon to midnight
    are looking for a high that will obliterate
    the stress of being alive,
    or a high that is bigger
    than a previous high–
    or multiple rapid fire highs–
    or a casual high for recreation–
    or a sweet satisfying high
    to keep the expectation of another high,
    high on the brain’s list of expectations.

    And the cost of their compulsions
    is a high cost to society–
    folks–wandering high and low
    in search of folks to rob, bludgeon,
    or shoot to death–while high–
    to find the money to buy a few more highs–
    nothing pretty about it–the pretty age fast,
    turn ugly–their ramshackle cages rattle,
    their eyes burn holes in their sockets.

    They pace fast– the friction of their feet
    striking sparks from the roads,
    their tumult visible on their faces,
    the sweat on their brows indicating–
    if their need is not met they will perish–
    it is a perilous journey from there to treatment–
    from start to finish the addiction is despot–
    and the treatment is from start to finish–
    a game of cops chasing killers.

    Who’ll win is anybody’s guess–
    first the pain–
    then the doctors–
    then the prescriptions–
    the first dose O so easy–pain gone–
    the next dose–then the next–and so on,
    until the pain returns begging for more
    to be put out–

    First the party–
    then the sniffing of the powder–
    just a pinch–
    just a try–
    just to loosen up–
    just to belong–
    the first dose O so easy–fear gone–
    the next dose–then the next and so on–
    until the fear returns begging for more–
    to be put out.

    Fight fire with fire–
    Heroin with Methadone,
    Opiates with Suboxone,
    Fight ire with ire,
    greater addiction with lesser addiction,
    bigger with smaller–
    street drugs–corner store drugs–
    money changes hands.

    Approach them carefully
    when they look agitated,
    their pupils dilated,
    their skin febrile,
    leave them alone–
    when they’re paranoid–
    Pull them out of their snake pits,
    every time they slide back,
    lift them up, dust them off,
    with tough love–
    bring them in from the void–.

    One drug to knock another–
    Like Frazier against Ali–
    many bloody rounds to see
    what drug will win–
    the ones from the hoodlums–
    or the ones from the scientists–
    Schedule 2 versus Schedule 1,
    legal versus illegal–
    Schedule 2 exchanged for Schedule 1,
    legal for illegal,
    it’s fungible– on the streets–
    in the clinics– among neighbors
    cowering behind closed doors–
    the prevailing wisdom is–
    “Once an addict always an addict!”

    Ferocious drugs–puny drugs,
    Monster drugs–designer drugs-
    maxi drugs–mini drugs–
    street drugs–corner store drugs–
    money changes hands–
    It’s a business.

    Usha Nellore



  • But what would I know…

    I think you will find the UMMS facility that relocated from the Walter P. Carter Center is much better run than BBH and the patients more focused and serious about recovery. I have been a patient at Walter P. Carter for 7 years.  I am not a drug addict and never have been a drug addict. I am in treatment for schizoaffective disorder. I also live in Pigtown. That said I don’t think the methadone facility should have moved to Pigtown because Pigtown is not an ideal place for patients wanting to get well. The drug dealers in Pigtown are ruthless. They make money from the most sick and most vulnerable people in the community. The patients will be offered drugs on their way into the facility and on their way out. Putting a methadone clinic in Pigtown is like putting a Jenny Craig in a Godiva chocolate store. Drug addicts deserve better.

  • But what would I know…

    Adam:  “Make those being treated uncomfortable.”

    I’m very sad to see this comment. You want the sick and the mentally ill harassed? 

    Is this the same Adam who ran for BCC? 

    • Adam Meister

      I am the guy who ran for BCC in 2007. The guy you are replying to is not me.

  • Joseph D.

    It sounds like the real problem isn’t with these specific neighborhoods – it’s with all the others which won’t accept more treatment facilities, or any at all. So many people in the US have the NIMBY mentality – not in my back yard!  I actually applaud what the man said about wanting a “socially diverse” neighborhood. It sounds like these people are welcoming to some addicts, but they just don’t want to bear the brunt of the burden.

  • Concerned local

    I know this article is older, but I am a professional who’s seen the inner workings of the UMMC program and having (thankfully, briefly) been employed by BBH, and lives in the neighborhood. UMMC is running a solid program. Without risking being slanderous, I feel comfortable saying that BBH’s program is inferior. I’m surprised the DHMH hasn’t shut it down. 

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