Vivian Dong, the founder of Safe Lynnwood, leads a group of protesters from the planned site of a methadone clinic to the nearby Alderwood Boys & Girls Club on Jan. 14, in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo)

Vivian Dong, the founder of Safe Lynnwood, leads a group of protesters from the planned site of a methadone clinic to the nearby Alderwood Boys & Girls Club on Jan. 14, in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo)

Editorial: Don’t let fear foil answers to opioid, other crises

A methadone clinic and mental health facility deserve communities’ support, not their opposition.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Everyone wants to see solutions to the often-related crises of homelessness, addiction and mental illness; indeed they’ve demanded those solutions from officials and lawmakers at all levels of government and expect those resources to be provided by agencies, businesses and nonprofit groups.

Not everyone, however, wants to see those solutions in view of their everyday lives; not in motels turned into supportive housing, not in a move of an opioid treatment center from one commercial neighborhood to another six miles away, not in the construction of an in-patient mental health facility in a rural area.

All have received public support, but all also have heard objections from the public and officials, usually along the lines that while the facility is necessary, this isn’t the place for it.

Most recently those objections have been levied against a 32-bed mental health facility to be built for the state by the Tulalip Tribes on rural land it owns near Stanwood; and the relocation of an opioid treatment center to Lynnwood from its current Bothell office park.

Although one Stanwood official, speaking as a local resident and not in his official capacity, now says that his earlier concerns have been answered regarding the facility and he now supports the project, a group of neighbors continue to raise objections to the facility, which would house patients for involuntary treatment for 90- to 180-day stays, increasing the availability of psychiatric beds in the county for long-term care from just six to 38. Opponents have cited concerns regarding traffic and safety for residents in the rural area.

Two days of testimony from the public concluded last week as a county hearing examiner considers a conditional use permit for the facility, first proposed more than a year ago.

In Lynnwood, the objections by residents and by the whole of the Lynnwood City Council have been levied against the relocation of an opioid treatment clinic run by Acadia Healthcare, which operates eight such facilities throughout the state, administering methadone and other medications and offering one-on-one counseling and group therapy. Opponents have objected to the clinic’s location because it’s within a few hundred feet of the Alderwood Boys & Girls Club and its adjacent ball field used by youth leagues.

Acadia’s lease at its Bothell location expires at the end of January. It applied to the Lynnwood planning department for permits for its new location last March and received a certificate of occupancy from the city in December. Thursday, the state Department of Health issued a behavioral health agency license to Acadia, allowing it to open its Lynnwood clinic at a medical services building and continue serving its patients.

Prior to the state agency’s decision on the license, residents had staged a protest and had turned out at meetings of the city council, some carrying signs reading “Protect our kids” and “No opioid facility near kids.” In response council members urged residents to write the Department of Health to ask that issuance of the license be denied or delayed.

While some have questioned whether there’s enough parking to serve a facility with some 300 patients, some of them requiring daily care, most of the complaints center around concerns for children and their exposure to people being treated for addiction.

The concern for children’s well-being and safety is genuine, but it’s misplaced, misinformed and represented by one comment from Lynnwood City Council Vice President Jim Smith, regarding methadone treatment.

“The location is very problematic,” Smith told The Daily Herald for a Jan. 14 report. “In addition to that, this program is not to stop drug use, it’s to give them a different drug to use.”

For the record, methadone is successfully used to stop opioid addiction and is not just a different drug.

Methadone is a medication used to treat opioid use disorder; by reducing the craving for opioids and their withdrawal symptoms and blocking the effects of opioids, such as heroin, oxycodone and synthetic versions. That, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

And this, from a patient of Acadia who contacted The Herald following the Jan. 14 protest and Herald report: “What methadone provides, basically, is stability,” said D.H., who asked for anonymity to protect his family’s privacy and his job.

D.H., a construction worker who lives in Edmonds, has been sober and a patient of Acadia since 2010 at its Bothell location and prior to that when the clinic was located in a medical services building near Lynnwood’s Alderwood mall.

Methadone supplants the high that is sought from opioids and suppresses the body’s craving for more of the highly addictive drug, D.H. said.

“It’s allowed me to get my life back,” he said.

While some patients receive daily doses of methadone, D.H. said he now goes once a week for treatment and checks in with counseling staff, attending a group meeting once a month. Early in his treatment, he went more often. Some patients choose to remain on a daily regimen. Some are allowed to take a few doses home, before returning. Others, under supervision, work to lower how often they receive treatment, he said.

Those who go to the clinic are indistinguishable from anyone else in Lynnwood or any community, he said. Many receive their treatment, then return to jobs or errands.

“You see people from all walks of life,” he said. “Some people have had a harder life than others, but by and large these are younger professional types in their 30s.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said that for the four years that the department has been in charge of licenses and compliance for such facilities, Acadia has not been subject to disciplinary action at any of its eight locations in the state.

D.H. agreed: “The only time I’ve seen police called was when a counselor accidentally hit a panic button.”

The need for this and more such clinics in Snohomish County is certain. While Snohomish County accounts for about 10 percent of the state’s population, between the years of 2016 and 2020 it accounted for about 15 percent of the state’s opioid deaths and 20 percent of all drug deaths, according to the state Department of Health.

There remain stigmas attached to addiction, mental illness and homelessness, much of it based on misunderstandings and prejudices about who those struggles affect, how those people are affected and the difficulties faced in confronting those issues. Those stigmas often are behind the objections to proposals that are meant to solve the crises we most want addressed.

It’s reasonable and necessary to raise concerns and ask questions when a proposal for such a facility is brought to a community. But members of those communities — especially the public officials charged with oversight of such proposals and who are expected to fairly weigh their impacts and their outcomes — should act on good information, not unfounded fears.

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