NEW BEDFORD—ONE proposed an opioid recovery clinic in downtown New Bedford supporters said their medical practice should be treated like any other – from dermatologists to cardiologists.
And by unanimously refusing their request for a special permit on Thursday evening, zoning board members said they had done just that – they rejected the proposal because there are not enough parking spaces at the 270 Union Street site.
She would have the same concerns, she said, if Southcoast Health opened an office at the site.
Concerns about parking were voiced by other ZBA members, as well as five area business owners who spoke out against it. Opponents also said it would slow progress in the neighborhood, and there were already seven recovery clinics in the city.
Police Chief Paul Oliveira also wrote a letter against the council on the traffic issue, saying there were now traffic problems there which would only increase with the development of a medical office. .
Attorney Benjamin Fierro represented petitioner Michael Brier, CEO of Recovery Connection Centers of America. He said his client has two avenues of appeal — through state land or superior courts or through federal court for violation of federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.
He said it would be “on the basis that failure to provide reasonable accommodation to allow us to open is a violation of federal anti-discrimination law.” People who seek restorative treatment are considered disabled or disabled under federal and state law, he said in an earlier filing with the ZBA.
When asked if his client could accept the disapproval, he seemed skeptical: “He is very convinced of the need for this type of treatment.” Both avenues of appeal could be attempted, he said.
During the hearing, Fierro said the clinic would eventually serve 15 to 25 people a day when prescribing medication. But he would have a doctor as a provider and therapist for counseling only two days a week. An office manager would staff him with six to seven days for calls and other office duties.
Clients would be scheduled, come in – no walk-ins would be allowed – undergo drug screening, then meet the doctor. The doctor would decide if a prescription was warranted, he said.
If so, suboxone would be prescribed. The patient would then meet with the counselor and later collect the prescription from the pharmacy of their choice. According to the RCCA website, “Suboxone is less addictive than opioid painkillers or illegal opiates, like heroin, it is also less addictive than methadone.”
Ten to 15% of clients will need an injectable form of suboxone, he added. The injection would be performed on the spot.
Councilor Derek Baptiste spoke in opposition at the meeting, saying parking was an issue and other RCCA sites appeared to be in areas with better parking.
The Recovery Connection Centers of America website says it has locations in Attleboro, Brockton, Burlington, Dartmouth, Dedham, Fall River, Hyannis, Natick, Pawtucket, Plymouth, Providence, Roslindale, Springfield, Taunton, and Worcester.
Baptiste added that the crisis of opioid addiction needed to be addressed, but “it’s just not the place.”
Fierro told the hearing that the opioid crisis got worse after COVID. The state Department of Public Health reported that opioid-related overdose deaths rose 5% last year and there were 2,104 deaths in 2020, including 64 in New Bedford. The number of deaths in New Bedford has risen to 81 in 2021.
The city council also expressed opposition to the site, but offered to help find another location in the city.