Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Communities worry that drug treatment centers attract crime

Communities can benefit from drug-treatment centers, but some residents are reluctant to allow them near their homes, another example of the "not in my back yard" syndrome. In Port Jervis, a town of about 8,000 just north of New York City, city officials recently denied plans to locate a new treatment facility, Cornerstone Family Healthcare, in an office building downtown, citing worries that it could be dangerous for nearby children.

Heroin is a big problem in the town, according to resident Anthony Cole, which is why a smaller-scale methadone clinic already exists in the building where the new treatment center was to operate. "Office manager Diana Hutchinson said the clinic had about 125 visits last week, and that if Cornerstone – a competitor – were allowed to set up shop in the building, it would be exactly what this ailing community needs," Ben Nandy reports for Spectrum News in Albany. Medication-assisted therapy is widely acknowledged to be the most effective way to treat opioid addiction.

The Cornerstone facility could accommodate more than 200 people. Other area Cornerstone facilities already treat and counsel about 450 addicts in surrounding Orange County, including 50 people from Port Jervis who regularly make the 40-mile trip to the nearest facility in Newburgh for treatment.

Wheaton, Illinois, a city of around 50,000 near Chicago, faced the same problem recently, in what John Keilman of the Chicago Tribune called "either NIMBY-ism at its worst or a sensible reaction to a poorly conceived plan," depending on whom you ask. Nearly 80 residents of DuPage County, where Wheaton is located, died from heroin overdoses in 2016. Haymarket Center wants to open a 16-bed residential and outpatient treatment center there, but the building it chose (which once housed medical offices) is near a strip mall, a movie theater, and a KinderCare daycare center. Neighbors say the facility is needed, but placing it at that site will increase crime and lower their property values.

"Nobody’s saying we don’t want it in Wheaton," Jeff Townsend, who lives nearby with his wife and five children, told Keilman. "It should be in the properly zoned area. That’s why you have zoning laws." The city council voted 4-0 against a zoning change that would have allowed the center, Bernie Tafoya reports for WBBM-FM. Haymarket CEO Dan Lustig says he is searching for other sites in the county, and said many of the people who spoke out against the center to the city council were incorrect in saying that Haymarket planned to bring in "criminals" and "people from Chicago."

Do drug treatment centers bring more crime to an area? Researchers from Johns Hopkins University attempted to answer the question in 2016, albeit with an urban setting. The researchers studied crime data in Baltimore correlated with the locations of drug treatment centers, liquor stores, chain convenience stores, and independently owned convenience stores. They found that crimes tend to cluster around any sort of public establishment, but liquor stores and mom-and-pop convenience stores attract significantly more crime than drug treatment centers. Read more about their study here.

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