WASILLA — After months without a drug treatment clinic in the Palmer-Wasilla area, the area may soon be home to two businesses designed to fight addiction.
Wisdom Traditions Counseling Services, LLC and Community Medical Services have each filed for an administrative approval to operate addiction-related businesses in Wasilla. Both businesses will face public hearings before the Wasilla Planning Commission 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
City officials could have approved both businesses without a public hearing — both are seeking administrative approval, as opposed to a zoning variance, for example — but mayor Bert Cottle chose to elevate the matter to public hearings to avoid the appearance officials were bypassing public scrutiny. Planning documents also said mailings notifying nearby property owners of the businesses were not returned. Those that did contained comments saying owners didn’t object.
The hearings are intended to gauge the public’s response, said city planner Tina Crawford.
“Maybe they don’t care, maybe they do,” she said.
Wisdom Traditions has applied for approval to operate at a two-story vacant building that’s currently for sale at the corner of Knik Street and Paulsen Avenue. The company bills itself as psychological counseling, meaning it assesses the prospects for each patient’s recovery and then refers them to other providers for the best services, according to spokesperson David Molletti.
“We do substance abuse counseling of both intensive outpatient and less-intensive outpatient types,” he said.
The clinic will also offer mental health services counseling for a variety of similar mental disorders, including gambling, sex addiction and work addiction, Molletti said.
If commissioners follow city planning staff recommendations, the building won’t house drug replacement treatment, allow on-site residential occupancy, or treat convicted sex offenders at the location, according to planning commission documents. That’s because the planned counseling site is located near A Touch of Home Daycare. Touch of Home administrator Brandi Sieler said she didn’t know about the possible new business until a Frontiersman reporter called to ask about it.
“It’s kind of concering,” she said.
Touch of Home serves 65 children. No one can get into our out of the daycare building without Sieler’s permission, so the treatment facility wouldn’t be a safety concern. However, Sieler has had past problems with passersby, some she suspects are connected to drug use.
“You get people that are obviously transiting,” she said. “I have to tell them please get off the sidewalks this is a childcare facility. People yell and scream. I have like three or four people that were yelling and screaming obscenities.”
The noise can disturb children sleeping during naptime, Sieler said. She’s never had any kind of a confrontation, but she worries about the possibility.
“You don’t know what kind of people are coming in or out of there,” she said. “Drug addicts are unstable.”
Ultimately, Sieler said she thinks the proposed facility can potentially co-exist with the surrounding businesses.
“If it’s done properly, I don’t see any problems,” she said.
Wisdom Traditions has operated a similar service in Anchorage for 10 years without incident, Molletti said.
Community Medical Services, an Arizona-based company specializing in providing drug replacement therapy for opioid addiction — replacement drugs include suboxone, methadone and Vivitrol (also known by the generic name naltrexone), among others — in rural communities, has had its eye on Alaska since early 2015. However, when clinics opened within the last year in Anchorage and Wasilla, company officials said they thought the opportunity had passed, said CEO Nick Stavros. When company officials read news reports in August that the Zipperer Medical Group methadone clinic — the only methadone clinic in the Valley core area — was closing, they reached out to state officials again, Stavros said.
“I called the state and said we’re looking at expanding,” he said. “They called me back immediately and were very enthusiastic.”
Replacement treatment uses prescription drugs to alleviate acute withdrawal symptoms, and is designed to allow people to function while gradually reducing their dependence on the replacement.
The treatment is still highly stigmatized despite relatively high rates of success, Stavros said. Residents also fret that the clinic will draw more drug users to their neighborhood.
“The drug users are already there,” he said. “We’re part of the solution.”
Company officials are seeking a permit for a location at 2521 East Sun Mountain Avenue, along the Parks Highway. The clinic aims to serve about 100 patients, Stavros said.
Officials with both Wisdom Traditions and Community Medical Services said they are accustomed to caution on the part of local residents, and viewed pushback as an educational opportunity about addiction and treatment.
“There are still social perceptions about addiction and the kind of things that go along with it,” Molletti said. “Then there’s the guilt and shame that the addicts themselves have.”
Instead of fighting about it, officials try to provide information, Molletti said.
“It’s just an education process,” he said. “It’s not pushing back against resistance as much as ‘Oh, I see you may not have all the information you need.’ If there is resistance, it’s usually out of a lack of information.”
Contact Reporter Brian O’Connor at 352-2270, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @reporterbriano.