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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Methadone Clinic Gets A Chilly Reception

PORT RICHEY - There was no ribbon-cutting, no politicians, no balloons festooning the facade of the small office building halfway down Washington Street. But the grand opening of Operation PAR's methadone clinic about two weeks ago didn't escape the notice of folks in this mostly residential neighborhood in the city's east end. "Why here?" asked resident Judy Parisi. "This kind of business doesn't belong here." Parisi, who lives down the street from the clinic, said neighbors felt betrayed by the city government for not telling them about the organization's plan to relocate.
"They just crammed this down our throats," she said. "We never had a say in it." City officials said there was little they could do to prevent the move. "It's an approved use," Building Official Ed Winch said. "They met all the requirements." Operation PAR left the corner of Ridge Road and Congress Street for a medical arts building at 7720 Washington St. Although it's zoned for medical office use, the clinic will be next door to the Cotee River Townhomes, a 90-unit complex being built along the Pithlachascotee River. Winch said PAR officials have met all the requisites of city building and zoning codes, and the relocation didn't require city council approval. Marvin Coleman, PAR's vice president of communications, said the group has never had problems with its clientele and has tried to resolve residents' concerns. "We want to be a part of the community," he said. "We're trying to be a good neighbor." On average, Coleman said, the clinic treats about 500 outpatients for substance abuse. PAR, or Parental Awareness and Responsibility, began in Pinellas County in 1970 with a largely volunteer staff. Today, the organization provides addiction treatment, intervention and mental health counseling in Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Lee and Manatee counties. In Pasco County, PAR also runs an outpatient adolescent treatment program. Methadone is a narcotic given in controlled doses to gradually break the dependency cycle. It's the first stage in the recovery process, primarily for heroin addicts. PAR is partially state funded. It received an estimated $725,000 last year, and $750,000 has been earmarked for the agency in the 2007-08 state budget. PAR bought the building in January for about $1 million, county records show, and received approval in May from the city's Development Review Committee. Parisi, a community activist, said she plans to keep an eye on the place. "I'll be watching them," she said. "And there had better be no problems." And for council members, she offered a stern warning: "On Election Day, we're going to take our grievances to the ballot box."

Reporter Christian M. Wade can be reached at (727) 185-1082 or [email protected]

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