A zoning violation could drive the Second Chance Recovery centre, one of Calgary's two methadone clinics, out of its current home and negatively impact the 500 clients receiving methadone treatment for drug addiction.
Last Tuesday, the city's subdivision and development appeal board upheld a city directive ordering the clinic to relocate from the northeast Greenview Industrial Park community and giving them a three-month extension to find the new location.
The staff considered a move to the southeast community of Forest Lawn, however that too saw backlash from community associations, business owners, Ward four alderman Bob Hawkesworth and Ward 10 alderman Andre Chabot.
The clinic treats those addicted to heroin and morphine with methadone, which can reduce cravings and withdrawal symp- toms.
The City ordered the clinic to move from its northeast location in January because the area is not zoned for medical use. The clinic brought the order to the subdivision and development appeal board committee, warning the closure would flood emergency rooms with methadone patients who would be helpless without the treatment.
Hawkesworth argued that the clinic was not singled out because they were a methadone clinic, but because they failed to get permission for their old location and failed to comply with the city's land use bylaw.
"They were treated no differently than anyone else would have been treated who was not in compliance with the planning rules," said Hawkesworth.
He said there are hundreds of locations across Calgary where methadone can be administrated in compliance with the city's land use rules.
Hugh Ham, the clinic's lawyer, argued the three-month extension is too short. The clinic needs to find a site, apply for a development permit and review and approve construction before they can move.
"In one case, Alderman Chabot, who has no medical training or expertise, attacked the clinic on the grounds that the treatment offered, in his view, is of no value," said Ham. "That opinion is contrary to the view of, among others, the College of Physicians and Surgeons."
Last week, Chabot told the Calgary Herald that using methadone to help addicts was "like trying to wean a baby off chocolate using candy."
Ham explained the clinic is important to patients who need methadone to recover from addictions.
He said there is a need for physicians with specific training and a federal licence, in addition to regulated pharmacies. The only other such clinic in Calgary, run by the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, has a three-month waiting list.
"Not all addicts are the street people depicted on television," he said. "They can be fathers, mothers, siblings, doctors, lawyers or accountants. Even street people deserve a second chance."
The war of words came as no surprise to University of Calgary psychology professor David Hodgins. He said methadone is an extremely effective treatment supported by a solid base of scientific evidence, but people are still nervous about using a drug to combat a drug addiction.
Ham mentioned both Medicine Hat and Lethbridge have shown interest in allowing the Second Chance Recovery clinic to set up there instead.