By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – A proposal to open a second methadone clinic in Rockford was shot down Monday night by the Code and Regulation Committee.
The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals had previously recommended approval of the facility at 5416 E. State St., the vacant building that once housed Circuit City. Tenth Ward Ald. Frank Beach, however, motioned to reverse the approval. The committee then voted 5-0 against the special use permit.
Beach said he’s talked to developers and believes retail could return to the once bustling strip mall. Allowing a drug-treatment center to open there would hinder that return, he said. Beach also questions whether Rockford needs a second methadone clinic.
“Remedies (Renewing Lives) has been serving the public very well,” Beach said. “And most cities, outside of Chicago, only have one methadone clinic.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Jose Montes of Mathers Clinic disagrees. He said while Remedies provides a service, there’s a need for another source of methadone treatment, which is why Mathers has sought permits at a number of locations, all of which have been denied.
“We know the service is really needed here in the city,” Montes said. “To only have one facility that provides this treatment is a disservice to patients who need it.”
Monday’s denial doesn’t mean Mathers is out of options. The matter will now go in front of the full city council, which will need a supermajority to officially override the ZBA.
“Hopefully it doesn’t mean we’re dead in the water,” Montes said. “There’s misconceptions about treatment facilities and the population of people that get treated. So as many treatment facilities we can have to help these people is worth it. ”
Beach said that while he may support a second methadone clinic in another location, several local doctors offer other forms of treatment.
“It’s not methadone,” he said. “It might be tablet-type (treatment), but it’s not that we aren’t serving the public.”
Buprenorphine, sold under various brand names like Soboxone, is a popular alternative prescribed by local doctors. It is used to treat opioid addiction during early withdrawals. For long-term treatment, drugs like Soboxone are usually formulated with other substances. That is where some experts say methadone is the answer.
“Suboxone isn’t for everyone,” Mathers Clinical Manager Marcia Dillion said. “It’s like comparing Tylenol to ibuprofen.”
Then there are the numbers. Overdose deaths from opioids have seen an alarming increase in Illinois since 2008, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. They rose 120 percent from 2014 to 2015. More people died from opioid overdoses in Illinois in 2014 than from all gun-related causes – including homicide, suicide and accidental shooting. In Winnebago County between Jan. 1 and July 1, there were 69 overdose deaths.
“There is a great need,” Mathers Neuropsychologist Dr. Brandi Boan said. “This is a systemic problem.”
Boan said each year about 225,000 infants are exposed to some sort of drug abuse. That exposure often starts in utero and compounds as the children grow. Breaking those numbers down to those Boan sees in her practice hits home even harder.
“Over half of the people I see have had some exposure to substance abuse,” she said. “And it’s not just heroin.”
Boan said most heroin addicts start by getting hooked on prescription medication. When prescriptions expire, they find themselves scoring pills on the streets. When they discover a $10 bag of heroin is more accessible than a $30 or $40 pill, heroin becomes a new drug of choice.
Boan added that restricting Rockford to just one methadone clinic hurts free enterprise.
“Addicts are patients, but they are also consumers,” she said. “They have a right to choose who they use for treatment.” R.