Methadone clinic closing in downtown Little Current

LITTLE CURRENT—The 19A Water Street (methadone) Clinic in Little Current will be permanently closing its doors Friday, February 15 after the Northeast Town contacted the clinic building’s owners, Robinson’s Pharmacy Group, earlier this month informing them that the clinic must stop dispensing methadone within 30 days at that location or the company would be charged with nuisance under the municipality’s bylaw act.

“The Town of Northeastern Manitoulin Island passed a zoning ordinance closing down the methadone clinic and pharmacy at 19A Water Street in Little Current,” states a letter from the clinic to patients, obtained by The Expositor by a patient who wished to remain anonymous. “Dr. (Brian) Dressler’s lease at 19A Water Street is terminated in February. Last appointment will be either January 25 or February 8.”

The town’s decision came after several letters from downtown Little Current business owners were sent to council pertaining to incidents involving patients of the Water Street methadone clinic.

Of these incidents, the most recent occurred on December 8, when five male clients of the clinic began a fist fight on Little Current’s main street.

Council said they understand that Island residents need treatment, but that the current location of the methadone clinic was not appropriate.

This discussion led to council proposing amendments to the current commercial and residential zoning bylaw to change the definition of a business or professional office to “an office in which any business is carried on or any profession is practiced but does not include a home occupation or a clinic” and limiting the placement of a clinic to “the same property as a hospital or home for the aged.”

The Northeast Town council carried a motion to accept the proposed amendments, followed by staff noting that the next step would be public notification and a public meeting.

According to the letter from the clinic to patients, clients of the clinic will be transferred to Dr. Dressler’s Espanola office and “attempts are being made to provide services on Manitoulin Island, however we have no guarantees at this time.”

Despite several attempts, neither Dr. Dressler nor Robinson’s Pharmacy Group returned The Expositor’s phone calls.

In another letter addressed to patients of the Water Street Clinic obtained by The Expositor, Robinson’s Pharmacy Group writes that they “have been directed by the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands to cease the dispensing of methadone at 19 Water Street by February 15.”

“We regret this is the position of The Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands,” the letter continues. “As a result we have no choice but to inform you that our last day of operation will be Friday, February 15. Although there are no other pharmacies in Little Current providing methadone, our pharmacy in Espanola, Robinson’s Pharmasave, is willing to transfer you as a patient if you would like to continue with our service.”

Robinson’s Pharmacy Group also writes that there are two other pharmacies in Espanola and one in Gore Bay that offer methadone services and may be able to take on new clients.

Though the outlook for the clinic’s patients is unclear, one Water Street clinic patient from Wikwemikong was able to shed some light on what the clinic’s closure would mean for individuals from her community.

“Dr. Dressler said that he is trying to find another location for the clinic here on the Island, but nothing is for sure yet,” explained Tabatha Peltier. “Right now, we’ve been told that there is no room in Espanola for our group and we will be travelling to the Sudbury clinic (Dr. Dressler’s Larch Street Clinic) to continue our treatment once the clinic here closes.”

Ms. Peltier explained that the change in clinic locations will be hard for herself and other clinic patients, as it will mean more time away from their families and more time away from work.

“We just want to live normal lives,” said Ms. Peltier. “That’s why we are in the program. We really work together as a group to help each other move forward with our treatment and our lives, so it’s too bad when a couple people cause a lot of problems and cause something like this (the closure of the clinic) to happen.”

The Expositor spoke with Wikwemikong Chief Duke Peltier on Monday who further expanded on the future for band members who were currently undergoing methadone treatment.

The chief explained that Wikwemikong chief and council had held a meeting last Thursday night to discuss the Water Street clinic closure and what steps the community would be taking to help band members.

“A case management plan was brought forward to council to address the issue,” said Chief Peltier. “Council approved the proposal and its continued development.”

Mary Jo Wabano, the health services director of Nahndahweh Tchigehgaming, the Wikwemikong Health Centre, was also in attendance at the meeting and explained that an interim working group was developed on Monday of last week to address the future needs of methadone patients.

“The interim working group, composed of members of the mental health team, Ontario Works and Rainbow Lodge, presented their case management plan to council on Thursday, however it was just a preliminary plan due to the short turnaround time,” Ms. Wabano told The Expositor. “Chief and council approved the group’s plan and its continued development. Right now the community simply provides transportation for band members to their treatment, but we are hoping in the future to ensure a circle of care that would utilize all the community’s resources to help support the individual and their families.”

Ms. Wabano was also able to confirm that Espanola would not be able to support all of the Water Street Clinic’s clients and that patients from Wikwemikong would be travelling to Sudbury for treatment, following the Island clinic’s closure on February 15.

Robin Burridge