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Operation PAR proves to be responsible neighbor

PORT RICHEY — When residents on Washington Street heard a methadone clinic was opening in their neighborhood last summer, they banded together in opposition.

They worried that the clinic, which provides mental health and substance abuse help, would mar the neighborhood's image, lower property values and cause crime to skyrocket.

So they signed a petition and crowded a City Council meeting to speak out against the clinic's opening.

But a year later, residents say their fears haven't been warranted.

Port Richey police say there have been no reports of major incidents at the clinic on 7720 Washington St., which is run by the nonprofit Parental Awareness and Responsibility, better known as Operation PAR.

And Operation PAR officials say by using a few safety tactics at the clinic, they've been able to keep neighbors happy while conducting business.

"I have to admit, things have been very good," said Judy Parisi, whose home is behind the clinic on Queener Avenue. "There's been no problems, and they keep the place very clean. They've stepped up and kept their word to restrain people from causing problems and hanging around."

Gary Wenner, vice president of Operation PAR's Medication Assisted Patient Services, said whenever PAR moves to a new location, officials keep an open dialogue with neighborhood associations and residents.

"When one of these programs opens, a certain part of the population gets scared," he said. "They get nervous. But we let them know nothing bad is going to happen."

Here's how, Wenner said: Patients are in and out in minutes for their treatments, unless they are seeing a counselor. Patients often tell clinic officials about people they see loitering outside who shouldn't be there. And counselors walk around the building between appointments to make sure nothing inappropriate is going on.

Before moving to its current location, Operation PAR was in a strip mall at 6446 Ridge Road for 10 years. Cramped space led clinic officials to move to a 4,800-square-foot building on Washington Street. The clinic serves patients from all over Pasco County.

At the four Operation PAR locations in the state that administer methadone treatments, patients addicted to painkillers voluntarily come in to set up appointments with a doctor.

Patients return daily for the next three months to drink a small orange methadone cocktail to decrease withdrawal symptoms. They also meet with counselors.

When officials decided to move the clinic to Port Richey last June, first-time home­owners like Melanie Virtuoso and her fiance, who live less than a mile from the clinic, worried their property values could be affected.

They expected to see people lingering in their neighborhood after methadone treatments, but haven't seen anything like that.

"It's not as bad as I expected," Virtuoso said. "It's still a little uncomfortable, but it is what it is. We are making the best of it."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or e-mail cspencer @sptimes.com.

550 Number of patients treated by Operation PAR last summer

480 Number of patients treated by Operation PAR this summer

Source: Operation PAR

Operation PAR proves to be responsible neighbor 08/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 5, 2008 2:03pm]
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