Drug Market Thrives By Methadone Clinics 

Drug Market Thrives By Methadone Clinics 
Posted by CN Staff on August 11, 2002 at 21:22:24 PT
 Serge F. Kovaleski, Washington Post Staff Writer
Source: Washington Post 
In a sullen ritual played out each day, more than 1,000 drug addicts descend on a Northeast Washington neighborhood off New York Avenue to receive treatment at the three public methadone programs in the area.They are a primed clientele for the drug dealers who operate out of a nearby McDonald's parking lot. Brazenly hustling in broad daylight, the dealers sell a jumble of pharmaceuticals to an unrelenting stream of buyers -- an operation that D.C. police describe as the largest open-air pill market in the region.
Many addicts in the midst of treatment say that the availability of so many drugs, also including heroin and crack, presents daily temptations when they are grappling with the physical and psychological complexities of trying to overcome substance abuse.The McDonald's parking lot abuts the District government's largest methadone clinic and is within three blocks of the two other treatment centers.On a recent morning, a dealer who goes by the name King Bad collected a swift $2,500 in sales, mostly from hard-core drug users eager for painkillers and sedatives such as OxyContin, Xanax and Percoset, as well as antibiotics for infected needle lesions and blood pressure medication to ease withdrawal symptoms."This is the place for pills, any pills you want, man," boasted King Bad, 52, a longtime heroin addict who unsuccessfully tried methadone rehabilitation at one of the nearby facilities. "More than half my customers are in and out of those clinics. This is a way for me to survive," said the dealer, who declined to give his real name out of fear the police would track him down.Dubbed "McPharmacy" by police narcotics investigators, the prescription-drug bazaar on New York Avenue and First Street NE is a formidable obstacle for those seeking help at the methadone clinics, D.C. health officials say."I get a complaint at least once a day from patients who say they have to walk through that maze of drug dealers," said Tyrone V. Patterson, manager of the Model Treatment Program, which has almost 500 patients a day and is adjacent to the McDonald's. Patterson has a clear view of the illicit activity: The large windows in his office overlook the parking lot.Also affected are a second D.C. Department of Health clinic, part of the agency's $6.2 million methadone program, and a $725,000 methadone treatment service run by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.The clinics, with the assistance of police and private security guards, have managed to keep drug activity away from the entrances of their buildings, but the market continues to thrive and has spilled over onto surrounding streets."It's like walking through a minefield. At one time, I couldn't get in or out without being accosted or succumbing to the drug trade," lamented Philip, 46, a recovering heroin addict who did not want to give his last name. "If you can make it through this test, you can probably make it through most tests."The dealers said they are merely exploiting a market that guarantees robust returns and enables many of them to support their own drug habits.Drug dealers have been a presence for years at the two-story McDonald's at 75 New York Ave. NE, but police have recently noticed greater activity at the site, coinciding with a surge in heroin use in the city. And Cmdr. Alan J. Dreher of the 1st Police District said his office has been receiving more community complaints about the open-air market, which also caters to well-heeled customers from the District, Maryland and Virginia.John Brennan, a sergeant with the D.C. police major narcotics branch, said that a citywide strike force has made more than 200 arrests at the drug market in the past two years but that the impact has been minimal. Brennan said that new dealers emerge almost as quickly as the police can make arrests and that many of those apprehended and charged receive sentences that do not involve jail time.Ron Keiper, a detective in the narcotics branch, said many of the addicts showing up at the methadone clinics are not there out of choice but because of court orders, another factor that contributes to the area around the McDonald's being "a haven of bad guys."William Edwards, who owns the McDonald's, declined to be interviewed. In two written statements, he said he has been working vigilantly with police and the community to control the drug dealing."At my own expense, there is a constant presence of uniformed off-duty Metropolitan Police officers in my store. In fact, 21 off-duty police officers work on the premises on a weekly basis," one of the statements said.On a weekday morning late last month, no police officer was visible at the restaurant while dealers in the parking lot openly handled large wads of cash and dispensed copious amounts of pharmaceuticals. "They [McDonald's] don't mess with us because we spend money with them," King Bad said.That morning, a man who identified himself only as Rodney, 39, illustrated another dimension to the drug dealing at the McDonald's: Not only do some addicts in treatment continue to buy drugs there, they also sell. Soon after receiving his regular dose of liquid methadone at the Model Treatment Program on First Street NE, Rodney made his way to the parking lot to hawk OxyContin."You looking for Oxy? I got it here, right here," he said to a passerby who declined his offer of an 80-milligram pill for $40 or a 20-milligram tablet for $20.Standing by a trash bin a few steps away, a gaunt woman waved a $20 bill at another dealer who obliged by furtively giving her Catapres, a prescription drug used for high blood pressure.Capitalizing on their New York Avenue locale near Union Station, the dealers also cater to more upscale customers from across the metropolitan area. At one point last week, five cars, including a Mercedes, a BMW and a Pathfinder sport-utility vehicle, idled in the McDonald's lot as the drivers gave their orders to several attending dealers."I need some more Percoset," the driver of the BMW, which bore Maryland tags, told a dealer before slipping $60 through the window and motoring away with a dozen pills. Within seconds of that transaction, the driver of the SUV stepped out of his vehicle, which displayed Virginia tags, and handed the dealer $40 for 20 Xanax.Soon after, a man behind the wheel of a rickety Honda pulled up alongside King Bad and announced he was selling methadone pills for the "wholesale price" of $5 apiece. King Bad quickly accepted the deal, snapping up a dozen or so pills, which he planned to sell for the market price of $10 per tablet.Patterson said his clinic "is supposed to be a symbol of help and hope and not a symbol of open drug-dealing." But he also noted that he has used his second-floor office view of the McDonald's parking lot to stress a lesson to recovering addicts: What they see happening in the lot is something they must reject outright if they are to succeed in their treatment.The clinic has moved up its schedule by an hour, giving out methadone from 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., to reduce the concentration of patients who come to the facility before going to work. The three methadone programs also offer bus service to and from their facilities.James T. Speight Jr., director of the second D.C. Health Department clinic, the UPO Comprehensive Treatment Center, said his facility strongly urges the 380 methadone patients it sees each day not to linger in the neighborhood after treatment."We view the pushers as predators because the individuals we work with are sick and vulnerable people who are being preyed on," Speight said.Debbie Jackson, who runs the Veteran Affairs Community Clinic -- which treats about 180 patients daily in its methadone program -- said the drug dealers are ruthlessly trying to cash in on the fact that recovering addicts are susceptible to relapses. "You are not going to sell umbrellas in the desert," Jackson said.Narcotics investigators said the dealers are getting their pharmaceuticals largely through people who have illegally obtained prescription pads, often through connections at hospitals, clinics or doctor's offices. They sometimes make huge numbers of photocopies to last them long periods. Others sell drugs that have been prescribed to them legitimately by doctors, or they find a doctor who will knowingly write a fraudulent prescription.Some of the individuals involved in illicit pill distribution have also been found to have prescription cards from several stores so they can get many prescriptions filled without drawing suspicion at any one pharmacy.Some dealers also buy people's Medicaid prescription cards for up to $100 apiece, allowing the dealers to fill prescriptions at little or no cost. Law enforcement authorities said that compared with the dozens of other open-air drug markets across the District, the one at the McDonald's generally draws an older crowd of buyers and sellers and has not experienced the violence associated with turf wars in the crack cocaine and marijuana trades.Brennan said that although there have been isolated situations in which doctors have been busted for writing illegal prescriptions for drugs that are then sold on the street, winning a case is a formidable undertaking. "One of the hardest things to do is to get the doctors," he said. "They are generally intelligent people who know how to cover their tracks and hire the best lawyers."Without providing details, Dreher said police officers will be more visible around the McDonald's as part of a two-pronged approach aimed at reining in the dealing. "Arresting your way out of the problem is one thing, but you need some decent outreach from social services, and we are looking at getting that going," he said.Note: D.C. Patients Must Face McPharmacy.Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.Source: Washington Post (DC)Author: Serge F. Kovaleski, Washington Post Staff WriterPublished: Monday, August 12, 2002; Page A01 Copyright: 2002 The Washington Post Company Contact: letterstoed washpost.comWebsite: Related Articles:Cocaine, Marijuana, and Heroin’s Time for Tough Questions About Drug Law 
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