EVERETT — After five inpatient treatment programs in less than two years, Curtis Letzkus, 50, of Monroe, was losing hope.
Looking for a way to curb his heroin cravings before entering yet another treatment center, Letzkus was prescribed Suboxone by Ideal Option, a clinic south of downtown Everett. The medication can be used to alleviate opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. And for the first time, Letzkus said he’s in a drug addiction program that is working for him. He’s been a patient there about a year.
“Suboxone, and the clinic itself, has been pretty instrumental in giving me lasting recovery,” he said.
With a backlog of patients, Ideal Option is running out of space. The clinic opened at 3624 Colby Ave. in September 2016. It was set to relocate to a bigger office downtown, to meet the overwhelming demand, a challenge noted by the city.
The City Council halted that expansion when councilmembers in March placed a temporary moratorium on new medical clinics downtown. The city, looking to revitalize downtown, is considering adding regulations for where medical clinics can operate in the metro area or even prohibiting them there altogether.
If passed, the rules would apply to all new medical clinics and social service providers. Those already operating would be permitted to stay.
Councilmembers continue to work with city staff on Metro Everett, the rezoning plan for downtown that’s in a draft form.
To serve more patients at its current site, Ideal Option remodeled both a break room and a bathroom, converting them to patient care space.
“We’re getting double-digit numbers of new patients every day,” said Dr. Jeffrey Allgaier, CEO at Ideal Option. “The need is tremendous.”
Allgaier said the clinic has the resources and staff to take on 500 additional patients, on top of the 750 it currently serves — but it doesn’t have the physical space.
The clinic signed a lease on a new location at Hoyt Avenue and California Street two days before the city enacted the moratorium. Ideal Option is asking to be exempted from the ban. The new site was formerly a clinic. The company has offered to pay for a full-time security guard to help address public safety concerns, including those raised by downtown businesses.
“If we can’t get into the new location we might have to make a waiting list,” Allgaier said.
So far Ideal Option has been able to avoid having one.
“When I go to the clinic, it’s overwhelmed. It’s not surprising with the crisis going on in Everett,” Letzkus said. “There aren’t a lot of people who are willing to help people. We have a medical community willing to do whatever is necessary, but they don’t have adequate means to do it because of sheer space.”
Research has shown a combination of medication such as Suboxone and therapy can successfully treat people with opioid-dependence, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Suboxone differs from methadone, another medication used to treat addictions, in that doctors at clinics write a prescription that is filled at a pharmacy. Methadone clinics dispense the medication to patients on-site, often on a daily basis.
Before the moratorium, medical clinics could operate in the downtown core. They are also allowed in some residential areas, which the moratorium didn’t affect.
The ban followed a lengthy discussion last year about whether or not to allow a second methadone clinic in Everett. The city’s attorneys determined that methadone clinics couldn’t be singled out for zoning, and that the past practice was violating federal discrimination laws.
City Council President Paul Roberts on Wednesday said the debate now is not whether to allow medication-assisted treatment clinics, such as Ideal Option, in the city, but where those businesses should be located.
He said downtown, which already has large concentrations of clinics and social services, is where the city wants to encourage mixed-use development that blends together residential, commercial and retail.
“Our challenge is finding the right vision for the next 20 years,” Roberts said. “(Clinics) are not the uses, generally speaking, we want to have in our downtown core.”
Allgaier disagrees, arguing it’s crucial for the clinic to be around other social services.
“If you located a few miles from downtown you will not be able to meet the needs of the patients where they are,” Allgaier said. “We know that need exists specifically in the area where the moratorium is.”
The Downtown Everett Association supports the prohibition.
“We believe this is a reasonable and necessary action to address public safety challenges that have been amplified by the high concentration of clinics and social services in Everett’s urban core,” wrote Dana Oliver, executive director, in a letter to the city.
Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher says the concerns of downtown business owners were “a little bit misplaced.”
Stonecipher said similar issues were raised when the city was siting the first methadone clinic. And since it began operating about 15 years ago, Stonecipher said the city has received zero complaints about the clinic.
She opposed the temporary moratorium in March because she said the city needs the clinics that offer medication-assisted treatment.
Craig Skotdal, a major local property owner and developer, said in a letter to the city that the ban is “absolutely necessary to create an enterprise district that can successfully attract new businesses.”
“Creating a vibrant urban core with successful housing, retail and business activity is an important part of expanding the tax base to pay for essential community services over the long-term,” he said.
Allgaier said even if the city’s ultimate goal is to create a clean, thriving downtown, those who are already there are likely to stay put.
“The people who the city is having trouble with are the same people we can help become functionable,” Allgaier said.
The council is holding one more public hearing, scheduled for Aug. 29, on the Metro Everett plan. It includes the proposed clinic regulations.
The council is expected to take action that night. Comments also can be submitted by emailing email@example.com.
Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@herald net.com. Twitter: @lizzgior.