Proposed methadone clinic threatens the revitalization of Buffalo's West Side

A recovering community threatened by state's obstinacy

In a move that threatens community safety and ignores the objections of the public and county officials, the State is allowing the establishment of a methadone clinic in a residential neighborhood.

The clinic, which would distribute methadone to recovering heroin addicts, will be located at 254 Virginia St. in Buffalo’s West Side. The neighborhood is finally recovering from a past that included streets ridden with drug dealers, gangs and prostitutes. Now, the area is largely residential – and safe.

But the state doesn’t seem to have any interest in the neighborhood’s concerns, granting Hispanics United of Buffalo and Acacia Network a conditional license to operate the clinic. More than 60 community meetings were held over a two-year period to discuss the issue, claims the state’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, but residents argue they heard about the proposal only a month ago.

Exacerbating the questionable methods of notification is the state’s willful disregard of not just the community, but also Erie County and Buffalo’s Common Council, which considered residents’ concerns valid enough to go on record in opposition of the clinic’s placement.

The state’s actions are demonstrative of an issue even larger in scale – local officials and citizens should be able to voice their opinions about problems that affect them directly and have their concerns considered.

State officials are simply bulldozing over the obstacles rightfully imposed by West Side residents and their actions threaten the entire community – especially those most in need of protection. The clinic isn’t just in a residential area, but also on the same corner as a school bus stop.

If the clinic is established in the proposed location, then children lining up for the bus each morning will mingle with heroin addicts waiting for their morning dosage and, potentially, the drug dealers who tend to prey on vulnerable addicts. The planned location of this clinic simply offers too many, too likely worst-case scenarios.

It is, after all, the location of the clinic and not the establishment itself that is a site of resistance. Recovering addicts deserve assistance and have a right to medication – no one is denying that, but there are plenty of alternate locations that could be used to supply methadone to those who need it.

Residents who protested the clinic’s establishment are aware of this side of the issue as well, and they’ve suggested possible options, such as the more commercial area on Niagara Street. Addicts need a place to feel safe and work on their recovery, but residents of the neighborhood have a right to safety, too.

As the West Side (hopefully) continues its revival, the area has the chance to attract new residents, new business and new visitors. With safer streets and well-kept houses, the area is becoming an appealing place, contributing to Buffalo’s rise. But bringing in a methadone clinic would bring in not just people in need of assistance, but also people looking to take advantage of the clinic’s patients and send the West Side plummeting once again.

The State may not be aware of the complexities surrounding the area, of the changing culture and restored sense of community. That’s why it should be listening to those who are aware – those who live and work in the neighborhood, who understand better than anyone why the West Side deserves a second chance and why its fragile recovery needs to be protected.