Excavating work begins at Antis Township Methadone clinic site

Blueprints are being studied. Permits are flowing through the proper channels. Excavation work has begun. By September, residents in Northern Blair County will have a new medical neighbor with the proposed Methadone treatment clinic in Bellmeade, near Splinter’s.
“Weather permitting, we’ll start putting the foundation in within the next two weeks,” said Stephen K. Shaner, co-owner of Alliance Medical Service, Inc., the group establishing the facility. “I’d like to have it up and running in September. That’s the goal.”
The proposed clinic would provide recovering heroin addicts with a daily dose of methadone, a chemical designed to not only suppress the body’s requirement of the drug, but also suppress the symptoms of withdrawal when the body isn’t being affected by the substance’s active chemicals.
Last month, when the topic was raised by landowner Brinton Simington at a meeting of the Antis Township Board of Supervisors, it was met with harsh resistance. Numerous people in attendance voiced their opposition as township leaders questioned Shaner and Simington about the proposal.
Who will pay for treatment? How many people will there patients there? How do we protect ourselves?
Chairman Supervisor Leo Matuszewski explained to those in attendance the supervisors have little control over businesses that want to locate in the township. He said as long as Simington purchases all the proper building permits, he can lease the building to anyone he wishes.
He noted that he called the media’s attention to the meeting so the word could get out what is coming into the township. He said if enough people voiced their concerns, a public meeting would be scheduled.
As of this morning, supervisors in Antis Township haven’t informed The Daily Herald of a date for such a gathering; however, two other groups have scheduled forums for public input.
The Blair County Drug and Crime Awareness Committee have asked residents to write down some comments, sign the paper and be prepared to speak at a forum scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. this evening in the Logan Elementary School gymnasium. Those speaking will be asked to keep their presentation short.
Also, this week, members of the Bellemead Civic Association passed flyers out throughout Antis and Logan townships and Bellwood Borough informing residents of a public forum tomorrow evening beginning at 7 p.m. at the Pinecroft Fire Hall.
Shaner said his company will be represented at both meetings.
“The goal of coming up is to basically help people who have some concerns, recognize the strong benefits to the individuals who use the program,” said Shaner, who is expecting to see between 100 and 150 people tomorrow evening, “as well as the strong benefits to the community.
“This is a much needed service for the residents of Blair County,” Shaner said in an interview with The Daily Herald this week. “Right now, about 30 percent of the patients who use the Johnstown clinic are from right here in this area. These people are traveling an hour both ways to seek voluntary treatment.
“If there’s a clinic here, more people of this area can get the treatment they need,” said Shaner, “and meanwhile, continue to live their everyday life – whether that be going to school, working, whatever.”
According to Shaner, the commonwealth will mandate in January that every resident in Pennsylvania must live within a one-hour drive of a methadone clinic. Currently, every resident does live within one hour of a clinic. Shaner operates facilities in both Johnstown and Pittsburgh. Just a few months ago, a clinic was established in Curwensville, Clearfield County.
He said the facility in Antis Township would be similar to the one in Johnstown. This clinic, he said, will see a younger client base, whereas the clinic in Pittsburgh treats older clientele.
Shaner explained that methadone clinics are heavily scrutinized and regulated by the state government. He said the state would most likely initially license the facility for about 70 patients, and depending upon the interest and success rate, additional licenses could be granted.
He said 50 to 60 percent of all costs associated with treatment is subsidized by the state and county. The remainder of the bill comes from the patient’s pocket.
“You have to understand that people taking methadone are people that want to get help,” said Shaner. “These people aren’t court ordered to be here. They are sick and tired of being sick and tired. They want help.”
Despite calling methadone a “life-sustaining medication,” Shaner expressed the importance that the treatment may not be for everyone, especially in the case of young people.
“The younger users shouldn’t necessarily think methadone is the way out right away,” said Shaner. “In some cases, yes. But for people who haven’t been addicted to opiates for that long of a period of time, I believe other drug-free attempts should be made first. But if methadone is the only way to control the addiction, that’s the way they need to go.”
Shaner said he expected opposition when the proposal was announced, but said he wasn’t worried about the chatter early.
“This kind of facility doesn’t come without controversy dies down, nobody will even know we’re here.”