Photo: Cassandra Day / Hearst Connecticut Media
MIDDLETOWN — A proposal to bring a methadone treatment center to a busy section of Route 66 is drawing mixed reactions from some business owners who oppose it and those who see a need to combat opioid addictions.
Several local business owners said they oppose the proposal for the methadone treatment center because they are concerned it could impact the businesses.
But Terri DiPietro of Middlesex Health and state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Mirriam Delphin-Rittman support the clinic.
The Hartford Dispensary, doing business as the Root Center for Advanced Recovery, based in Manchester, and with locations across the state, will be seeking a special zoning exception from the Planning and Zoning Commission Sept. 9 for a change of use to 392 Washington St. to a substance abuse clinic.
Methadone is a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat opioid use disorder as a medication-assisted treatment, as well as for pain management. It reduces opioid craving and withdrawal and blunts or blocks the effects of opioids, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Sonia Santavenere, who has owned Main Switch Beauty Salon for 25 years, said she was notified about the meeting in a letter from City Hall. Santavenenere, who has hairdressers as young as 17 working for her, said she is not against methadone clinics, but “I rather it not be next door to me” and is concerned it could impact her business.
She said she owns the 390 Washington St. building next door, and lives in the apartment above, where her grandchildren often visit. Santavenere also said she leases out another apartment through AirBNB to people, including Wesleyan University professors, students and parents visiting the school and their children.
. “It’s not a good look,” Santavenere said.
But Root Center Vice President of Operations Amy DiMauro, who visited several of the businesses to gauge the feelings of owners, said “Our nonprofit mission is to create compassionate, comprehensive care for sustained recovery.”
The agency has another center in Middletown at 520 Saybrook Road.
Several community agencies support the project. Maryellen Shukerow, executive director of St. Vincent dePaul Middletown, did so in a letter to city planner Marek Kozikowski Aug. 18.
Shukerow said her guests and clients trying to overcome drug addiction must travel daily to Hartford for methadone, where the nearest provider is located.
“Opioid addiction is very embedded in every community in our state, and a major health crisis in our country,” Shukerow said. Over the past year, her staff saved a minimum of 50 people by administering Narcan to guests, clients and the general public who overdose at or near the Main Street facility.
She praised the Root center’s business model, noting it is efficient, effective in-treatment delivery, and well-maintained, discreet properties, which, Shuckerow said, prevent the process from being a stigma for those being treated.
Root Center serves about 150 Middletown residents among its 10 locations in Connecticut. The centers employ addiction medicine physicians, including psychiatrists, physician assistants, advanced practicing registered nurses and clinicians, according to the proposal.
Jay Sheil, owner of Fine Tunes Car Stereo & Complete Auto Repair, where the center is proposed, has been in business more than 30 years. He said he learned about the plan when he saw the zoning sign on the front lawn.
“That clinic does not belong here. I’m not a ‘not-in-my-backyard’ kind of guy. It’s a necessary thing. Drug addicts need help, just like anybody else. This is an incredibly poor location for it,” Sheil said.
Michael Stone, who purchased the building nearly three years ago, did not reply to multiple calls seeking comment.
DiMauro however, said the objections “sound like pure and simple discrimination to me,” DiMauro noted she has read research suggesting that crime rates surrounding opioid treatment programs are no higher than any other part of the city.
According to statistics provided by DiMauro from the state Department of Public Health, 1,202 people died as a result of an unintentional drug overdose in 2019. The number of deaths in Middletown since 2015 have totaled 88, not including deaths in 2020, she said.
Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce President Larry McHugh said he plans on speaking with members to gauge their feelings on the proposal. “There is a need for it,” he said.
John DeSena, owner of Mobile 1 Lube Express, at 1359 Newfield St. and 566 Washington St., said he is concerned about the potential impact on property values and on how the city is perceived.
The Root Center is working with Tecton Architects to design a “beautiful building that Middletown will be proud of,” said DiMauro, a city native. “It is near and dear to my heart. My family is from Melilli, so I am so happy to add something of value to a town that has done so much for my family.”
Root Center’s primary service is methadone maintenance, but it offers additional services for substance use as well as treatment and therapy related to mental health, she said. Most clients arrive between 5:30 and 9:30 a.m.
“We know that people are much more likely to be successful when they have easier access to their life-saving medication. Middletown can expect that Root Center will do everything we can to continue to battle the current opioid epidemic in Middletown and beyond. Everyone deserves treatment for their disease,” DiMauro said.
The hearing will take place Wednesday at 7 p.m. on the Zoom platform. The agenda can be accessed at middletownct.gov.