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Is methadone clinic making Ipswich sick?

CBD CLINIC: Ipswich’s methadone clinic on Brisbane Street in the CBD.
CBD CLINIC: Ipswich’s methadone clinic on Brisbane Street in the CBD. David Nielsen

RECENT antisocial behaviour has reignited debate over the location of an Ipswich methadone clinic.

Intending to keep heroin addicts off illegal drugs, supporters of the clinics argue that they help reduce crime associated with people trying to obtain enough cash to support a habit which can cost several hundred dollars a day.

However, complaints have dogged the clinic intermittently since it first opened about six years ago.

A furious Raj Sharma earlier this week pointed to the Ipswich Dosing Centre as one of the main sources of trouble in the CBD - even though it is doubtful that it was linked to the racial abuse he and his family suffered on Tuesday - while some other surrounding business owners have also complained about some of the clientele that frequent the area.

Pharmacist John Ward won State Government approval to establish the privately-operated clinic, which has a list of about 60 clients who obtain their prescribed methadone and buprenorphine doses between the hours of 12.30-3.30pm Monday to Friday.

Ipswich lawyer Jon Kent, whose office is directly above the clinic, said some of the Dosing Centre's clients loitered at the entrance to his business and around the back carpark, off Limestone St.

"We've had people urinating at the bottom of our stairs and we have had to go down there and move people on," Mr Kent said.

"One day we were fronted by a guy who wanted to fight us."

Mr Kent said he worried about the safety of some of his younger female staff, who occasionally had to walk through gatherings of what he believes to be clients of the methadone clinic.

Councillor Andrew Antoniolli has been one of the most vocal opponents to the clinic, referring to it as a "dodgy drug den" that had scared people away from the CBD and negatively affected other businesses.

"This is no different to any other privately operated methadone clinic around Australia. Wherever they go, they isolate themselves," Cr Antoniolli said.

"Not every one of the clients is a problem, but the majority of our problems in the CBD are caused by their clients."

Cr Antoniolli has called for a review of the State Government guidelines that have allowed the clinic to be positioned where it is, along with tougher regulations.

While state Member for Ipswich Ian Berry promised to work alongside council to look for a solution, he said the clinic should not be shut down.

"(Mr Ward) is not doing anything wrong," Mr Berry said.

"He is carrying out a lawful activity and I believe those people on methadone are also doing the right thing by trying to get back into society - we certainly don't want to discourage anybody from doing that."

Mr Berry did suggest, however, that the clinic might be better situated closer to the health plaza, from which a large needle exchange program is already operating.

"I think Ipswich City Council and the State Government need to work together to see if there is any way we can assist," he said.

"We cannot make it difficult for people to get to the clinic. Many people receiving this treatment are on low incomes and need to be able to access it via public transport."

Criticism not based on fact

CLINIC owner John Ward said he believed criticism levelled at the Ipswich Dosing Centre was unfounded.

"It is handy to have us here to blame, but it is not my people," he said.

"The reality is that people who come here do not use needles, it is all taken orally and these people do not cause problems. Anyone who hangs around, I tell to move on."

There is also the argument that the methadone clinic prevents crime associated with addicts trying to score drugs.

Mr Ward said clients at the clinic paid $5.50 per day for their dosage, whereas a heavy heroin addict might fork out up to $200 a day for illegal drugs.

"Cr Antoniolli doesn't understand that this is a crime prevention program and that each person on the methadone was spending $70,000 a year on heroin," he said.

A spokesman from the office of Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said opiate treatment clinics like Mr Ward's played an important role in reducing the use of heroin in the community.

"Opioid Treatment Programs are associated with decreased rates of crime, especially theft, fraud and prostitution, along with an overall decrease in the actual amount of injection and therefore a reduction in HIV and Hepatis C infection," the spokesman said.

"Along with this, there is an overall increase in the health in drug users."

Topics:  andrew antoniolli, ian berry, methadone, raj sharma



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