BROOKSVILLE — Every week, dozens of recovering addicts from Hernando County and points north head south to Operation PAR's outpatient drug treatment clinic in Port Richey.
Many are addicted to painkillers and voluntarily come in for three months to drink a small methadone cocktail to decrease withdrawal symptoms. They also meet with counselors. Some arrive well before dawn so they can get to their day jobs.
Hernando County — a place where prescription drugs killed more people than traffic crashes in the last few years, according to the Sheriff's Office — is due for just such a clinic, Operation PAR officials say.
"We really have identified the need to place something more convenient and close to the clients we serve," said Marvin Coleman, the company's vice president of community and business relations. The epidemic, Coleman said, "is pretty bad, and that just leads to why we're making the steps we're making right now."
On Monday, the Planning and Zoning commission will consider a rezoning request that would allow Operation PAR to set up the clinic in a former day care center on Kass Circle, just north of Spring Hill Drive. County planning staff is recommending approval for a special exception use permit.
The roughly 5,300-square-foot standalone building sits on a little more than an acre that is zoned for general commercial. There is vacant commercial land to the north, shopping plazas to the east and south, and vacant land zoned for multi-family development to the west. Operation PAR has committed to purchasing the property if the rezoning request is granted.
The Spring Hill clinic would be the first of its kind in Hernando, Coleman said, and Operation PAR's fifth to offer Medication Assisted Patient Services Program, or MAPs. The program aims to slowly wean addicts from opiates such as pain pills, heroin and Oxycontin.
Patients receive a physical examination, a laboratory workup and an in-depth assessment of their family support and employment status to create an individualized treatment plan that includes regular counseling.
The bulk of patients would arrive between 5:30 and 11 a.m. The volume would decrease until the clinic closes by about 2 p.m. or so, Coleman said.
There are few residences nearby. Among the closest is a condominium complex to the west, on Pinehurst Drive, property records show.
Signs announcing the rezoning hearing have been posted on the Kass Circle property, legal notices have appeared in the St. Petersburg Times, and letters have been sent to property owners within 250 feet. The county had received no correspondence from neighbors as of Wednesday afternoon, said planner Omar DePablo.
The commercial location without close residential neighbors should accommodate the center well, DePablo said.
"That way the citizens are less concerned and it's not adverse to the public interest," DePablo said. "It's a preferable spot."
Founded in 1970 as Parental Awareness and Responsibility to provide addiction and mental health services, the group currently employs some 425 people in Broward, Pinellas, Pasco, Lee and Manatee counties.
The company opened its Port Richey treatment clinic among a chorus of opposition from nearby residents. When the Times followed up a year later, police reported no major incidents and neighbors said they were pleasantly surprised that the loitering and crime they initially feared never materialized.
There are some basic reasons why, Coleman said.
Patients are in and out in minutes for their treatments, unless they are seeing a counselor, and often tell clinic officials about people they see loitering outside who shouldn't be there. Counselors walk around the building between appointments to make sure nothing inappropriate is going on, and the facilities are kept clean.
"We understand (residents are) a little wary about new things in their community, especially with the economy the way it is and property values being what they are," Coleman said.
"But once they get familiar with how we operate, most often we're able to develop alliances and good relationships because they see we're part of the community, not an outsider trying to destroy the lives they've established."
The clinic would be a welcome addition in a county that desperately needs more options for addicts seeking help, said Tresa Watson, executive director of the Hernando County Community Anti-Drug Coalition.
"I think it's a great plan because we have very, very, very limited resources for treatment here in Hernando County," Watson said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]