Methadone clients will be told to dose and dash


By Albert Amateau

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau last week joined the East Side Alliance, police and methadone treatment centers in a policy agreement designed to prevent patients from hanging out and drug trafficking in the East 20s, Gramercy and the East Village.

The four major methadone programs in the area — run by Bellevue Hospital Center, Beth Israel Hospital, Gramercy Park Medical Group and Greenwich House East — have agreed to require their clients to leave the East Side Alliance area (between E. Third and E. 28th Sts. east of Sixth Ave.) immediately after receiving services. Clients found guilty of buying or selling drugs, including methadone, would be subject to being expelled from their programs.

“This initiative will help the community address quality of life crimes, shoplifting, drug dealing and illegal drug use in the neighborhood’s streets and many parks,” said Morgenthau at the Aug. 2 announcement of the agreement.

The East Side Alliance includes the Union Square Partnership and the Flatiron 23rd St. Partnership, local elected officials, the State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services and police from the Sixth, Ninth and 13th Precincts.

Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Flatiron 23rd St. Partnership, said problems involving methadone clients had long been an issue in the neighborhood.

“We brought it up at a Community Board 5 meeting in February and the district attorney’s liaison got back to us because the D.A.’s Office on 125th St. had initiated an agreement in 2004 with methadone clinics in Harlem,” Brown said.

“We’ve been talking to those clinics, and we believe the policy agreement works pretty well,” Brown said. Police, the methadone centers and the District Attorney’s Office will monitor the area and share information with members of the alliance to ensure enforcement of the agreement.

“If someone gets kicked out of a program for a violation, they won’t be just passed onto another clinic in the same neighborhood. Instead, they’ll be referred to other programs outside the area,” Brown said. “We’re going to be vigilant and we’re very hopeful the policy will succeed,” she said.

Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, recalled that the business improvement district spearheaded the revitalization of the district, beginning with the cleanup of the formerly drug-infested Union Square Park in the mid-1980s.

“This agreement is a continuation of our efforts to improve the quality of life in the area,” Falk said. “Working with District Attorney Morgenthau and area stakeholders, we were able to strike a balance between compassion and enforcement to ensure that those who need treatment get it, while protecting the quality of life for neighborhood businesses, employees and residents,” she said.

In addition to the three local police precincts, New York City Housing Authority and Transit Bureau police, along with Manhattan South Narcotics and Vice units, are involved in the policy agreement.

The four major providers of methadone services in the East Side Alliance district serve 1,950 patients. The various clinic locations range from Cooper Square to E. 27th St. and include sites on Third, Second and First Aves.

On Monday, some clients from the Gramercy Park Medical Group methadone clinic on Third Ave. between 20th and 21st Sts. gave their thoughts on the new agreement between the D.A. and East Side Alliance. They declined to be photographed or give their names.

“I don’t mind,” said a Lower East Side man, 40, who has been going to the clinic for two years. “I don’t stay around here anyway. Other programs are worse than this, that’s for sure. I’ve been in trouble so many times out here — the cops are harassing everybody anyway.”

A 64-year-old Midtown resident who has been going to the clinic for 14 years said, “A lot of people do things they’re not supposed to. People may go into a store, into a Blimpie’s. That’s not right. There’s persons that have a good record in the clinic. I don’t think it’s fair. Sometimes you go to the church and rest,” he said, pointing to the church at 22nd St. off Third Ave. “They come over and say, ‘Leave.’ That’s ridiculous. As long as you keep clean and keep away from the area where there are drugs, why should they kick you out for one little thing?”

With reporting by Jefferson Siegel