San Mateo County methadone clinic faces uncertain future 

The planned closure of a San Mateo County-run clinic for opiate addicts is in limbo while a San Francisco nonprofit goes through the tricky process of finding a new location for the center.

The county is enlisting Bay Area Addiction Research and Treatment to take over the methadone provider. The clinic, currently located in Menlo Park, is losing $200,000 to $300,000 per year at a time when the health system is considering $15 million in budget cuts, officials said.

The group has been looking for a couple months for a spot closer to the mid-Peninsula, but so far hasn’t nailed down a venue for the clinic, which has around 250 patients and is the lone methadone provider in San Mateo County, President Jason Kletter said. He declined to disclose potential locations.

“As you can imagine, it’s pretty hard to find a site for these things. There’s a lot of considerations,” Kletter said. “We want to make it accessible for patients, but not impose on neighborhoods or other existing community organizations — schools, for example. No one wants it next to a school.”

Clinic patients receive doses of methadone, a painkiller used to ease withdrawal symptoms for people who are addicted to heroin, morphine, oxycodone and other opiate drugs. Kletter said his organization also requires patients to be in counseling.

County health officials believe the private provider — which opened its first methadone clinic in San Francisco in 1977 — can run the facility more efficiently. The clinic’s current location on the Veterans Affairs campus in Menlo Park is inconvenient for many residents, leading to lower patient counts and revenue, officials said.

The county hoped as recently as February that it could open a new clinic by July 1, but Kaplan said this week the timeline is “just not realistic.”

He said the county hopes to make the transition as soon as possible, but not until officials are sure it will be “seamless for the patients.” Kletter estimated it will take six months to open once his group finds a site.

It’s not clear whether the 14 clinic employees will keep their jobs. Nadia Bledsoe, a business agent for the union AFSCME, which represents the workers, said the dwindling number of vacant county jobs in other areas is a concern, and she agreed that finding a community willing to take on a methadone clinic could be difficult.

Still, Kletter said the service keeps people out of the criminal justice system. Research shows patients who leave treatment relapse within a year 80 percent of the time, he said.

“It’s really important to provide this service, whether you support the notion of it philosophically or not,” Kletter said.

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Shaun Bishop

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