'It's a supermarket for Oxycontin and ecstasy'

'It's a supermarket for Oxycontin and ecstasy'
SEATTLE -- A state licensing loophole is allowing a Seattle methadone clinic to more than double the number of addicts it serves, and that rule has neighbors asking why they should be stuck with the consequences.

First Hill's Therapeutic Health Services is a drug treatment facility that helps painkiller and heroin addicts get clean using a synthetic opioid called methadone.

Because the clinic is located on a street corner, it technically has two addresses. That fluke allowed the clinic's director to apply for -- and receive -- two licenses that have doubled the clinic's clients.

"They have 1,000 clients coming each day," said Jim Erickson of the First Hill Improvement Association. "State law says 350 is the limit."

The clinic's Norman Johnson admits it's an unusual arrangement, but said waiting lists to enroll in opiate treatment facilities are typically 300 people deep. Because of that high demand, Johnson believes it's a benefit to society to treat the added patients.

Johnson said junkies often get sick and clog up emergency rooms, while many others wind up in jail, further taxing public services.

"This community really needs this program, because otherwise they are going to pay for it either in taxes, or on the street, or in crime," Johnson said.

Erickson agrees that THS helps recovering addicts, but feels the clinic isn't playing by the rules and is inviting large numbers of drug dealers and users into his neighborhood.

"It's a supermarket for Oxycontin and ecstasy," he said. "And there's a lot of money changing hands."

Erickson isn't alone in his concern, either. King County substance abuse expert Jim Vollendroff said the increased number of patients at the clinic can bring an unsavory element into the neighborhood.

"When you're treating large concentrations of vulnerable populations, who are also bringing in people who prey on them to either try to sell them drugs or to steal their money or whatever, I think it does have an impact on the community," he said.

Johnson said the clinic has addressed the concerns by bringing in a community monitor and staggering dosing times so not everyone shows up and once.

The clinic currently serves 890 methadone patients. At one dose per day, that's nearly $4.5 million per year in public compensation for the clinic. The money comes from federal and state funding, and a portion comes from the city sales tax.

THS is one of just three clinics in the state with two licenses for a single building, and it's the only one located in a residential neighborhood. The loophole that allowed the second license has since been closed.

The clinic plans on opening a new methadone facility in Bellevue in the coming weeks and hopes to shift some of its First Hill clients to the new location.