WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — A mobile methadone clinic that operates daily in a Woonsocket parking lot has been ordered to leave its location by the city, which says it is in violation of city zoning ordinances.
CODAC Behavioral Healthcare’s mobile unit is a 27-foot RV that has set up shop in the back lot at 800 Clinton St. since July 2022. The lot is owned by the nonprofit Community Care Alliance, which invited CODAC to use its space to provide services.
“It was determined by our solicitors and by Community Care Alliance and CODAC that there was no permit required for this because it was not a permanent building,” CODAC President and CEO Linda Hurley said.
The clinic operates there three and a half hours a day, six days a week, providing suboxone and methadone to about 40 people in need. The mobile unit was the first of its kind in the country under new regulations by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The bus also makes daily stops at the Cranston Street Armory in Providence, where a warming station recently opened, in addition to Project Weber/RENEW in Pawtucket once a week. Hurley said CODAC is working on acquiring a second bus, too.
Hurley told 12 News neither CODAC nor the Community Care Alliance has received any complaints about the mobile unit from the city, nor has the clinic been visited by police or fire officials since it began operating on Clinton Street.
The city sent a cease and desist order dated Dec. 30, 2022, saying that based on a Dec. 28 inspection, zoning officials noted the mobile unit was violating of seven city zoning ordinances, including being posted at a location not zoned for a hospital.
Read the full cease and desist order here »
Hurley said the mobile unit does not provide hospital care.
“If someone comes to us and requests care, we will absolutely refer and get them where they need to go,” Hurley explained. “And in the meantime, we do behavioral health and medication-assisted treatment for the folks that are opioid dependent.”
The letter stated that the mobile unit had to vacate “immediately” due to zoning, building code, and fire regulations. Failure to comply would result in the matter being referred to municipal court, the order said, along with possible fines of up to $500 per day.
Hurley said she received the letter on Jan. 2 and immediately referred it to CODAC’s lawyers, but has decided to stay put until the interpretation of the cease and desist order is reconciled.
“We know that this is a critical site for those over 40 individuals that come to us every morning,” Hurley added. “We also know that there’s well over 400 people in the last quarter that have come to us for all kinds of other medical and psychological needs that we could get them immediate access to care.”
If the city does not allow the clinic to operate, it could literally be a matter of life or death for the people who utilize its services, according to Hurley.
“The medicine that people receive for opioid use disorder keeps them from withdrawing, keeps them from craving, and when they don’t have the medicine, they have to get something else,” Hurley said.
“The thing that I fear the most is the legality of the street product right now,” she continued. “And between fentanyl and xylazine and 48 other adulterants, we really can’t take a chance of not providing people their medicine for one day.”
Hurley said Woonsocket alternates with Providence in being what the R.I. Department of Health calls a “hotspot.” Every week, health department data shows how many non-fatal and fatal overdoses have occurred statewide. Hurley said two weeks ago, Woonsocket was the top hotspot in the state.
“This is remarkably serious,” she added.
Hurley said “being pragmatic,” CODAC is looking at other sites in Woonsocket, some of which that would welcome them.
“But this is where we want to be and this is what we are going to stand by until we are told from a legal perspective that we have no other option,” she said.
Hurley said CODAC requested a permit three weeks ago for an external, semi-permanent heated tent so patients wouldn’t have to wait out in the cold, but the city denied the request.
“I think that may have triggered it, but no one has given us any indication of why this happened,” Hurley noted.
12 News has reached out to Woonsocket’s city solicitor, zoning department, and mayor’s office for comment.