Not just Al­bany’s prob­lem

Albany Times Union - - PERSPECTIVE -

One thing that peo­ple with even a pass­ing un­der­stand­ing of ad­dic­tion know is that when an ad­dict is ready for help, they can’t take a num­ber and wait. The phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal urges for a fix can be over­whelm­ing, mak­ing the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity ex­ceed­ingly small.

Any dis­cus­sion about Camino Nuevo needs to bear that in mind.

The three-year-old methadone clinic lo­cated on lower Cen­tral Av­enue, in the heart of a ma­jor Al­bany busi­ness dis­trict, is clearly fill­ing a need. Be­fore Camino Nuevo opened in 2015, the city had only one methadone clinic, with a wait­ing list of some 250 peo­ple. The next clos­est pro­gram was in Am­s­ter­dam, a 40-minute drive by car, but an eter­nity away for some­one with­out one and in need of methadone daily.

To­day, Camino Nuevo has more than 500 clients. It is no doubt re­liev­ing a lot of suf­fer­ing. But the de­mand for its ser­vices is also caus­ing fric­tion in the neigh­bor­hood, where po­lice and busi­ness peo­ple say it brings traf­fic, loi­ter­ing and crime. Camino Nuevo says that the claims are overblown but that it’s try­ing to ad­dress the con­cerns by hir­ing more se­cu­rity guards to deal with loi­ter­ing and cars idling at the curb. It also bought two vans to trans­port pa­tients and cut down on con­ges­tion and peo­ple wait­ing for cabs.

City of­fi­cials say they’d rather Camino Nuevo find a new, more out-of-the-way home. That’s not an an­swer for the many peo­ple who don’t have their own transportation and are likely liv­ing on thin bud­gets as they re­build lives rav­aged by ad­dic­tion.

It’s note­wor­thy, how­ever, that most of its clients (72 per­cent) come from out­side the city; nearly half are from out­side Al­bany County, some even from Ver­mont for lack of ser­vices closer to home. That points to a re­al­ity Al­bany has long faced: As the re­gion’s largest city, it’s home to many so­cial ser­vice providers, most of them non­prof­its that yield lit­tle if any rev­enue for the city but add de­mands on city ser­vices. They are there be­cause of the con­cen­tra­tion of peo­ple and pub­lic transportation, yes, but also be­cause Al­bany’s neigh­bor­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties don’t want such fa­cil­i­ties as methadone clin­ics in their back yards.

This has left our re­gion, like other ar­eas of up­state New York, ill equipped to con­front an opi­oid cri­sis that rec­og­nizes no city lim­its. Mayor Kathy Shee­han is un­der­stand­ably frus­trated, but go­ing af­ter Camino Nuevo isn’t an an­swer. Pro­vid­ing more lo­cal treat­ment op­tions is — and that’s not just the job of Al­bany’s mayor.

To all those pub­lic of­fi­cials who be­moan the opi­oid cri­sis but get flat­footed when it comes to do­ing any­thing, here’s a chance to step for­ward. The re­gion needs more clin­ics like Camino Nuevo, which is near­ing a 581-client limit set by the state. Ad­dic­tion treat­ment isn’t Al­bany’s bur­den alone.

So where are the other may­ors? The town su­per­vi­sors? Who will help the ad­dicts in cri­sis in their com­mu­ni­ties, rather than sigh­ing with re­lief that the prob­lems on Cen­tral Av­enue aren’t in their com­mu­ni­ties? Mayor Shee­han surely would be glad to hear from you.

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