A Methadone Clinic in Brownstone Brooklyn Draws Mixed Reactions

Adrienne Preuss, the owner of Animal Loving Care, a doggie daycare on Court Street, had just walked out of her shop late in the afternoon on September 23 when she said she saw a man pull what appeared to be drugs out of a FedEx drop box on Huntington Street and, much to her shock, shoot up in broad daylight.

Preuss walked back inside her office and posted a frustrated rant on the BoCoCaGo Parents & Families group on Facebook, a page where residents and business owners of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Gowanus share concerns. “What, if anything, can we collectively do about the junkies around the Smith/9th coming from the Methadone Clinic?” she asked. She was referring to the Beth Israel Methadone Clinic on 12th Street. The reaction was swift, with several comments criticizing Preuss’s “privileged” point of view and defending the clinic. But others agreed with Preuss, displaying a degree of vehemence towards the clinic.

“I don’t want to be a ‘not in my neighborhood’ kind of person,” Preuss wrote in the Facebook post. But while some agreed with her, calling for increased police presence, others accused her of just that, being a not-in-my-neighborhood type. Some questioned the existence of a methadone clinic near St. Mary’s Playground on Smith Street—there is a Narcos Treatment Center on Court Street, not very far from St Mary’s playground — but complaints about a perceived increase in petty crime are mainly associated with the methadone clinic on 12th Street, at least by the residents who have a problem with it.

Residents said that they were uncomfortable with the possibility of their kids witnessing drug activity in the area, which is perceived by some to be increasing — though the data doesn’t point toward a crime increase. Chakira Brown, from the Public Information department of the NYPD, said she found no increase in drug complaints in the area, and that as for 311 complaints, most of them from Carroll Gardens are related to dangerous potholes and occasional business disputes that are unrelated to any drug-related activity. Still, some residents say they have witnessed drug activity on the street, and they are concerned.

In the last two decades, and since the escalation of the opioid crisis in the United States, methadone clinics have been seen as an effective way to fight opioid addiction. “Patients’ illicit opioid use declines, often dramatically, during methadone maintenance treatment. However, adequate methadone dosage and basic psychosocial services are essential for treatment effectiveness,” according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse summary of studies. Though the methadone facilities involve the use of opioids, since methadone falls into that category, a medical provider supervises those seeking treatment. Anyone who needs treatment can seek treatment in the clinic, where they generally undergo an assessment to determine the kind of care they require. Depending on the needs of the patient, visits can be daily, several days a week, or once a week, with the frequency being reduced over time, as the dependency lessens.

The clinics though, since they first came into the picture in the United States the 1960’s, continue to be controversial to this day, with the likes of former mayor of New York Rudy Guliani, for example, expressing disdain at the idea of fighting substances with substances, and favoring traditional abstinence over methadone clinics.

The methadone facility in Carroll Gardens opened in the neighborhood two years ago. Since then, according to at least some of the residents of the area, the drug activity and petty crime seemed to be more visible. Diane Mottiqua, a resident of Carroll Gardens, told The Brooklyn Ink by email that since the clinic opened, people have been stealing small packages from cars and urinating in public in the area. While walking on Smith Street, Mottiqua said said she was asked—on her way to work at 9:00 a.m.—if she had any drugs on her, presumably because she was carrying a backpack. She is not against the methadone facility, she said, but she wants more security in the area.

But others, like La Bestia Bustamante, a social worker and resident in the area, expressed her disdain over the “privileged point of view” some people have when it comes to opioid dependence.

Bustamante described what she calls the “systematic othering” of those who seek addiction treatment. She also said she feels the anger against clinics is misdirected, with people expressing annoyance with those who seek treatment instead of with socio-cultural factors that lead to dependence. “Quit dancing around! You don’t want to address the root cause of the problem, you just want the results of your porqueria (bullshit) to go somewhere else and dirty up someone else’s hood, so that your extra precious babies don’t have to see hard things,” she wrote in an email, when asked what she thinks about some of the concerns other people in the neighborhood have expressed.

Preuss, along with some of the residents on the street, wrote a letter to local politicians, as well as to Borough President Eric Adams, asking for increased police security in the area. “I’ve seen people steal packages, break into cars, and they come into my place of business completely out of it and falling asleep while asking questions and scaring customers. Can you support us in helping get more police presence in the area?” Preuss wrote in the letter. The issue is being considered, according to Preuss.

In an unscientific survey of people in the area by The Brooklyn Ink, several who live on Smith Street and in the neighborhood gave mixed reactions to the drug clinic, and most expressed confusion about finding a solution to the perceived increase in drug activity. Some supported increasing security in the area; some sounded skeptical at the idea of increased security because they did not want to alarm their children. But even though no one could agree on a clear path forward, it appeared that most of them supported the addiction treatment centers broadly.

Local resistance to methadone clinics is not unusual. Last year, some Harlem residents protested against plans to build a methadone clinic in their neighborhood. When Argus Community Incorporated — a nonprofit that works with “severely disadvantaged New Yorkers and their families” to battle addiction, according to its website — bought a $4.3 million building in the Sugar Hill district of Harlem, there was an uproar. Protesting residents said the presence of methadone clinic would escalate the crime in the area. After a month of charged protests, which were reported by both local and national news outlets, plans to build the clinic were thwarted. In general, there has been a growing collective fear about clinics in residential areas, according to news reports, specifically in sections of neighborhoods where schools and parks are concentrated. Critics say they should be located in industrial areas instead.

New York City Council member Mark Levine, who represents District 7 of Manhattan, which includes Manhattan Valley, the Upper West Side, and Lincoln Square, said he was unsurprised by the reaction to the methadone clinic on Smith Street. Levine, who held office during the time of the protests in Harlem last year as well, visited the protesters in Sugar Hill district several times while they were protesting against the plans to build the clinic, and seemed to be unequivocally on their side. Levine said that if anyone paid attention, they would know neighborhoods with methadone clinics are more unsafe, though he stressed that he is not against the idea of a clinic itself. Regarding the protests in Harlem last year, Levine felt people had a right to determine what kind of elements they want in the neighborhood they live in. “These are not bad people,” he said. “This is an instinct for preservation, protection.”

Elinore Mccane Kantz, an assistant secretary at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said there is not much that can be done about neighborhood pushback to the clinics. People in the neighborhoods generally expect the clinics themselves to do something when residents perceive that “drug dealing has increased around them.” But she questioned the clinics’ ability to take action. When asked about increasing the police presence in the area, Kantz was quiet for a few seconds, and then said that if such presence gives people an illusion of security, there is nothing wrong with increasing security — as long as it doesn’t come at the cost of somehow negatively affecting access to treatment. “At every point we have to ask ourselves, what is the impact we are looking for? Why are we doing this? Does this, in any way, help the drug addiction crisis in the United States? Are you helping, or not helping?” Kantz expressed doubts that increasing security presence in the area would be helpful.

Melissa Macaron, a resident of Carroll Gardens who is a case manager at a mental health and substance abuse shelter, stood on Court Street, near the highway at the border of the neighborhood on a recent afternoon, and expressed empathy for clinic patients. “Just remember these residents who have a problem with the clinic, they live in one of the most privileged parts of New York City, and they have options,” she said. “Those who seek out addiction treatment necessarily don’t.”

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