In Fort Greene, on the corner of Fulton and Waverly, stands an old pre-war building contrasted by bright-blue new awning. It is a drug treatment center known as START.
I’d never been inside a methadone clinic before and had no idea what to expect. And the first thing I noticed as I entered START, almost immediately, I got tense.
A security guard met me at the entrance and checked me in. As I waited for my guide to meet me, I noticed groups of people casually milling around, checking schedules, chatting on the staircases and greeting each other in passing.
It was actually pretty relaxed and social. I felt like I was in a high school. In fact, had I not known where I was, I wouldn’t have felt the slightest bit uncomfortable.
START opened as ARTC in 1969. Although it only recently changed its name to START last year, it remains the oldest functioning methadone and drug recovery program in the neighborhood with seven clinics throughout Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.
When the center first opened 45 years ago, the idea was to enter the neighborhood quietly. And, for the most part, it has remained under the radar.
The area’s drug use and crime rates have dropped, due in part to START’s presence. As a result, property values have climbed, and the neighborhood has gentrified.
However, some of the new property owners around START recently have decided they don’t want to live so close to a methadone clinic, near “junkies” and “dealers.” So recently, the clinic has received some pushback.
Almost every patient I spoke to had a story or two regarding the discrimination they’ve endured recently while attending START.
One restaurant had a sign, No one from ARTC allowed here, one patient told me.
“I ate there. They didn’t know who I was or were I was from. And when I was done I left a nice tip and told them not to discriminate.”
To the patients, it’s ironic: At a time when they have choose to turn their lives around, become productive members of society, they are frowned upon as “the problem.”
But START now aims to be transparent in the neighborhood — it even has a Facebook page.
“No one wakes up on a Sunday morning and decides that want to start drugging,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Brown, head physician and CEO of START. “The general public doesn’t understand Methadone. It’s one of the most controlled medications, the most scientifically studied in clinical trials.”
START does not recruit its patients. Patients must walk in voluntary and be ready to make a change, at which time they will undergo rigorous evaluation by START to determine whether they are, in fact, ready to begin treatment.
And the recovery is intense, involving a deep reclaiming of mind and body to move into a new stage in life.
Every treatment plan at START is designed for each individual patient. Combining methadone with behavioral therapy is very effective. And of course, treatment is variable as in all other diseases.
In Fort Greene, the START facility combines medical treatment with behavioral treatment, healing patients both physiologically and psychologically through counseling services, group programming, medication assistance and coordinating additional care when necessary.
The average day for a START patient begins around 8:30am, with group sessions commencing at 9:00am, followed by individual counseling, dispensary of methadone, and various meetings among groups like grief, anger management, and primary care medical appointments.
Most patients are out of the building by 1:00pm, where they will proceed to classes, jobs, their families, or perhaps a halfway house, depending upon their stage of recovery.
The truth is, START helps to reduce crime rates. Less drug use means fewer illicit activities in order to get drug money. Less drug use means a safer community.
START keeps prior addicts off the streets, offers GED, vocational and college certifications — a much deserve opportunity for former addicts to recreate their lives.
People believe that they don’t want a methadone clinic in their backyards, because it will attract drug addicts, illicit activity and affect their property value.
But are they thinking about the consequences of not having accessible recovery nearby?
Without a safe space for recovering addicts to go, what would happen to their property values then?
*This is the first in a 3-part series that aims to demystify the notions and anxiety around drug treatment centers and their role in a changing, fast-developing neighborhood. We will look at START, as it is one of the oldest drug rehab centers in Central Brooklyn. To read Part II, go here. To read Part III in this series, go here.