Saturday, June 17, 2006

Judge tosses case against meth clinic

The Raonoke Times

A Roanoke judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to shut down the city's controversial methadone clinic, saying he found no evidence the drug treatment center has become the nuisance it was predicted to be.

Seven Northwest Roanoke residents filed suit when the clinic opened in January 2005, claiming that an influx of recovering drug addicts into their neighborhood would increase crime and decrease property values.

But as Circuit Judge Jonathan Apgar wrote in an opinion this week, "merely alleging special or irreparable damages without facts to support the claim, as petitioners have done here, is insufficient."

None of the plaintiffs could say in sworn statements that they saw patients of the clinic causing a disturbance, driving erratically or selling drugs in the area, Apgar noted.

In fact, none of the plaintiffs even live within eyesight of the clinic at 3208 Hershberger Road, the seven-page opinion stated.

Opposition to the clinic -- which dispenses daily doses of liquid methadone to curb addicts' appetites for opium-based drugs such as OxyContin and heroin -- has been fierce at times. Residents have complained that their predominantly black neighborhood was selected as the dumping ground for an unwanted project that was turned back by residents of Southwest Roanoke County.

But in the clinic's first 18 months of operation, resistance has died down as police reported few problems. "It's been pretty quiet," said Aisha Johnson, spokeswoman for the Roanoke Police Department.

Michael Bragg, an Abingdon attorney who filed the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Among other things, the lawsuit had claimed that the clinic was in violation of a city ordinance because it never obtained a special-exception permit. Such a requirement for methadone clinics was created by the city council in December 2003 -- one month after the clinic was granted a business license, but more than a year before it began operations at the site.

But the question of whether the clinic was violating the ordinance was immaterial, Apgar concluded, because the plaintiffs needed to present evidence of "special and irreparable injury" in order to obtain an injunction shutting the operation down.

Of the 34 times police were called to the clinic in 2005, 70 percent of the calls were for burglar alarms set off accidentally by the staff, police have said earlier. The rest were for minor incidents such as reports of suspicious activity.

By comparison, police were called 49 times during the same time period to a nearby business that authorities declined to identify. Police statistics also show that calls in District 2, the portion of Northwest Roanoke that includes the clinic, decreased during the clinic's first year of operation.

Attempts to reach the clinic's operators and its attorney were also unsuccessful Wednesday.

By Laurence Hammack


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