Desperate to give up opioids, patients flock to 24/7 methadone clinic in Phoenix

The opioid crisis has affected our entire country. Our task force is working to ensure everyone has access to Community Medical Services clinics.

...Neighbors: It's not a 'NIMBY' issue

The people who frequent the Community Medical Services clinic often arrive on foot, by bus or via cars.

The parking lot, which is under constant surveillance by an off-duty police officer and at least one traffic navigator, is frequently crowded with cars and people. For anyone passing by, the constant activity is hard to miss.

About 90 percent of clients at the Community Medical Services clinic are covered by Arizona's Medicaid program, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. which pays for medication-assisted treatment.

Patients whose insurance doesn't cover MAT may pay cash for $65 per week, which includes medication, counseling, labs and other behavioral support, Stavros said. The clinic doesn't turn away any new patient intakes, he said.

Clinic leaders say they've heard criticism from people who assume that a population addicted to opioids is going to bring with them higher crime rates. But the people going to the clinic are trying their best to get their lives back on track, Stavros said.

The clinic always has security guards both inside and outside, he said.

The pushback is largely about the fact that the clinic is simply too small, said Brophy McGee, who has been working to address complaints with a group she formed in June called the 23rd Avenue and Northern Neighborhood Preservation Task Force.

Brophy McGee, chairwoman of the Arizona Senate's Health and Human Services Committee, pointed to the 24/7 MAT clinic in Tucson as an example of one that seems to be working well, without the neighborhood criticism the Phoenix clinic has attracted.

The Tucson clinic, operated by CODAC Health, Recovery and Wellness, is 21,000 square feet, which is more than three times the size of the Phoenix clinic, though the Phoenix clinic recently purchased a 3,600-square-foot building next door.

The problem with the Community Medical Services clinic is that it backs straight up into a neighborhood with no buffer and the parking lot is inadequate, Brophy McGee said.

"The building is too tiny, and it's too close to the neighborhood," she said. "To me, it's promises made and not being kept over and over again," Brophy McGee said.

"This is not about being a NIMBY. All the people on this task force have either a loved one, a friend or a neighbor involved with addiction, even to the point of losing a loved one."

Jeff Spellman, a member of Brophy McGee's task force, has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. He said that after the clinic went 24/7, there was an increase in transient and petty crime in the neighborhood. In the past year, he has added security cameras at his home, which is about a half-mile from the clinic.

"There's been a huge, drastic increase in what I call criminal transients in the area. I've had people coming into my backyard," Spellman said. "We've had people passing out in front of restaurants and other businesses. This is stuff we are seeing and didn't used to see. We blame much of it on the clinic."

Spellman said there are federal guidelines that require interaction between clinics and neighborhoods before opioid treatment programs move in. That didn't happen before the Northern clinic went 24/7, and there needs to be a structure in place to improve communication between opioid treatment clinics and neighborhoods, he said.

"We don't just want to move problems out of the Northern clinic and into other areas," Spellman said. "We have talked to Senator Brophy McGee about it and are hoping it will be a priority for her in this session."

The clinic has its supporters as well.

Haley Coles is executive director of Sonoran Prevention Works, which is a Phoenix-based non-profit that aims to reduce barriers for people affected by substance-use disorder.

"This is one of the only 24/7 MAT clinics in the entire country. The entire country is looking to them (Community Medical Services) for their leadership," Coles said.

"And then you've got this neighborhood group that wants to shut it down and frankly doesn't care about its community members dying without that treatment."