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Possible Tacoma opioid clinic drawing concern despite obvious need

TACOMA, Wash. – The need for opioid treatment centers stretches across the Puget Sound.  According to Accountable Communities of Health, there are 10,000 people who are addicted to opioids in Pierce County alone, but only about 2,000 are getting treatment.

That’s why one health care group is hoping to open a methadone clinic.  But one doctor leading the charge worries community pushback is getting in the way of dealing with the opioid crisis.

“In the midst of an epidemic, treatment is necessary. People are dying,” said Northwest Integrated Health CEO Dr. Asif Khan.

But in Pierce County, less than 20% of people with opioid addictions are getting help.

Khan, an addiction medication specialist, works to provide more locations for treatment.

“It is a disease with structural changes in the brain and, because of that, medication is necessary,” Khan said.

Medications like suboxone and methadone are given to hundreds of patients a day at one Northwest Integrated Health’s clinic run by Khan in Lakewood.

“They’ve already gone to detox, they’ve done residential treatments, they’ve done outpatient,” said Khan.

After all of that, people with opioid addictions who need long-term help could come to a potential location at 3727 S. Tacoma Way in Tacoma.  Khan would like to put a methadone clinic there, but that idea is being met with pushback.

“When I identified this location, I assumed this was a perfect location. There’s no schools nearby, no playgrounds. It is proper zoning, the area is properly zoned, it is central to the city,” said Khan.

But the Tacoma City Council sent this response to the state’s Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery.  While the council overall supports the new facility, some concerns were raised "regarding this concentration of medically assisted opioid treatment facilities within a single region and business district” and "it should be noted that a marijuana processing facility is located across the street.”

“If not here, then where? Can someone identify another location for me?” asked Khan.

As Q13 News has reported across the region, these facilities are not often welcomed. In 2015, people protested a proposed treatment facility in Des Moines.  Some argued it was too close to an elementary school and library.

“We are not against the facility; we are against the location,” Des Moines resident John Castronover said at the time.

Something being echoed again three years later -- just down the road in Tacoma. But Khan is optimistic the community will eventually support it.

“Once people are educated, they understand the crime rate will go down, they understand that it is a disease, people are reasonable,” Khan said.

Khan says there actually needs to be four more treatment facilities in addition to the one in limbo in order to meet demand.

Right now, the proposal is with the state’s Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery.  They tell us they’ll review any and all concerns from Tacoma and Pierce County leaders before finally making a decision whether to approve the new methadone clinic.