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Editorial: Amherst was right to delay action on drug clinics

The Amherst Town Board just backed down from an ill-advised local law that could have created barriers to opioid treatment. It was a wise move.
The misplaced proposal follows Catholic Health System’s attempt to locate a drug treatment clinic on Millersport Highway at the edge of a residential area in Eggertsville. Opposition from neighbors forced Catholic Health to look for a new location.

But credit goes to leaders at Catholic Health, who went about searching for a better location. Using a list of 129 potential sites provided by the town, system officials settled on an office and industrial park at 210 John Glenn Drive in northwest Amherst.

Several weeks later the town began considering stringent new restrictions on where drug treatment clinics can be located. There is nothing wrong with zoning restrictions on the type of businesses allowed, but they should not unreasonably discourage possible locations for the clinics that are vital to the opioid fight.

As proposed, the law would have barred drug treatment clinics from locating within 400 feet of a residence or within 1,000 feet of a school, playground or library.
Decision-makers may have been swayed by a review of police data showing there have been few crimes at existing treatment centers in the town and at a methadone clinic in the City of Buffalo over the past several years.

Or they may have taken into account objections by Dr. Gale R. Burstein, Erie County’s health commissioner, who has spoken against the idea on more than one occasion and again at a public hearing the other night at which she noted the importance of access to medication-assisted treatment, the only evidence-based approach that works. The urgency is amplified this year because of the presence of fentanyl, a potent painkiller, in street drugs.

Judge Mark G. Farrell, founder of the town’s Drug Court, added to the chorus of opposition to the proposed Amherst local law, calling it unconstitutional and doubting it would survive a court challenge.

Supervisor Barry Weinstein offered the necessary timeout when he suggested the proposed changes would require more revisions and set an indefinite timeline. That pushes the matter past November elections and leaves the issue to the incoming Town Board “if next year’s Town Board wants to,” Weinstein said.

If the new board decides to revisit the issue, it should do it carefully and weigh input from the health and legal communities. The town can’t turn its back on desperate addicts who want to become clean.

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