A locked storefront for an opioid treatment clinic in a St. Charles strip mall sits between a bar and a meeting space for Alcoholics Anonymous. A sign outside reads “New Season.” But the project is on hold, after objections from local residents.
“We’re not against any of the opioid clinics, we’re against the location,” said Jim Meinhardt, the sales manager of a nearby computer store. “Usually these clinics are not right next to a neighborhood or a day care. Usually there’s some thought.”
When he heard about the plans, Meinhardt started gathering signatures for a petition asking the clinic, which would serve 350 patients, to choose another location.
The proposed site is across the street from a day care and a cluster of homes. It is also near a gun shop and several check-cashing businesses that residents worry have reduced their property values.
The outcry came as a surprise for the clinic’s Florida-based operator, which also runs a clinic in Breckenridge Hills.
“We have all these places that we purposely thought — wow, this would be perfect, based on the demographic of our patients that usually reference and or use these other facilities or services,” spokesman Todd Eury said. “This was an absolute perfect location.”
In St. Charles County, methadone clinics are zoned the same way as general medical services, such as doctors’ offices. There are no local rules against placing a clinic near a day care or school, according to the Planning Division.
The proposed clinic would take appointments for medication-assisted treatments such as methadone between 5:15 and 10:45 a.m. But that does little to assuage Meinhardt’s concerns.
"One person told me that if someone's new to an area and they want to find a drug dealer, they'll go to a methadone clinic," Meinhardt said. "Even if the risk is like, one in a million — there's spots where it's less than that."
Eury said he can't deny that has happened in the past, at other clinic locations. But the alternatives proposed by residents are too isolated, he said.
"We want our patients to be close to the highway, in a well-lit area," Eury said. "To be out in the middle of nowhere, in a warehouse district is not conducive."
After receiving several hundred signatures from Meinhardt’s petition, the St. Charles County Council passed a resolution last month asking the clinic to relocate elsewhere in St. Charles. But the Missouri Department of Mental Health will have the final say.
Eury said his company has invested about $500,000 into the project. But the controversy has pushed its planned opening date from November to February — and that's if the clinic receives state approval. Meanwhile, about 100 patients from St. Charles are getting care at a New Seasons clinic in St. Louis County, and are hoping to see their doctor closer to home.
“I wish people would know that this is happening to your friends, and your family, and people who are in your life," Eury said. "This is a disease that is ravishing the entire nation, and St. Charles is not some pedestaled community that is above or too good for this type of treatment."
Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.