IW residents, supervisors debate methadone clinic

Published 10:29 am Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Several Isle of Wight County residents, particularly those living in the Carrsville area, have raised concerns over the impending opening of a methadone clinic in the Airway Shopping Center outside of Franklin, arguing that the facility’s presence may cause an uptick in drug-related crime.

The facility will be administered by the Affinity Healthcare Group of Franklin LLC, which operates an additional clinic in Newport News.

Carrsville resident Mark Whaley spoke during citizen’s time at last week’s county Board of Supervisors meeting to voice his objections, and board chairman Rex Alphin said he has received several more phone calls concerning the clinic.

“Why would they [Affinity Health Care] put it in Isle of Wight county?” Whaley asked. “Why would they bring the worst of the city trash, drug addicts, into a quiet rural community? Crime is going to increase through the roof. I’ve talked to a lot of business owners on Business Route 58, they’re all concerned. We know there are going to be break-ins. Show me one of these clinics that have opened up where the crime rates did not increase.

“Nothing good can come of it, the drug addicts use these to get a fix when they can’t get a fix elsewhere. They don’t use them, they’re not there to try to get better for the most part. Some might.”

He added that his concerns came from a newspaper article in which Affinity’s president, Ronald Martin, was quoted as having said, “We’re finding a lot of clients are coming from Southampton County and Emporia to get treatment.”

“That doesn’t include Isle of Wight County at all,” Whaley said.

According to County Administrator Randy Keaton, Affinity Healthcare Group applied for and received its zoning and building permits on Oct. 28, 2016, for a proposed rehabilitative service clinic, which is defined as a civic type use per the county’s zoning ordinance. As a result, it is a by-right use in any commercially zoned district, and so, no public hearing on the matter was needed. The only restriction the county’s zoning ordinances impose on the facility is that it can only be open a portion of a 24-hour period. He added that the facility is expected to create over 20 jobs, including nurse practitioners and pharmacists and that he was not aware of any statistics regarding negative impacts of a methadone clinic in the community.

Windsor District supervisor Joel Acree suggested the board could obtain such data by contacting the other localities in which these types of clinics operate, and Newport District supervisor William McCarty echoed Keaton’s comments that prior to the meeting, the board had not heard of any negative consequences from having such a clinic in the county.

Hardy District supervisor Rudolph Jefferson added that the stereotypical “drug addict” image that citizens may be envisioning may not be the majority of the people who will utilize the facility.

“I served at a medical complex up in Denbigh; they’ve got one of these rehabilitative centers there,” Jefferson said. “They have security guards; they have cameras; they monitor everything. We’re thinking about drug addicts but, what I’ve seen is folks driving up in Mercedes, somebody who’s got a pain problem, somebody deals with pain management. It’s not all about drugs and drug addicts. In three years I have not seen one problem up there.”

Smithfield District supervisor Dick Grice said that it was his understanding that the Airway shopping center was virtually abandoned, and expressed his support for the facility opening, and Keaton added that in terms of zoning, the facility would not be much different than if a general practitioner opened up  and prescribed methadone or opioids to patients.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the opioid crisis and it is hitting everywhere; it is hitting all walks of life; it is hitting families you would not think would be affected by that,” Keaton said.

Affinity expects the renovations to the building will be complete in time for the facility to open this spring.