WOONSOCKET – The future of the mobile clinic that has been operating on the property of the nonprofit Community Care Alliance in Woonsocket since July 2022 remains uncertain more than two weeks after CODAC Inc., the organization that owns and operates the unit, received a cease-and-desist order from the city’s Zoning Division.
The Dec. 30 letter alleges violations of a number of the city’s zoning, building and fire code ordinances and threatens daily $500 fines for noncompliance. The notice refers to an “inspection” that took place on Dec. 28 at the site, located at 800 Clinton St., warning that “Failure to comply with this immediate order will result in this matter being referred to the Woonsocket Municipal Court for adjudication.”
But as of Jan. 18, the mobile unit remained at the site, following its normal schedule of 6:30-10 a.m. Monday through Friday.
The 27-foot-long vehicle was the first mobile treatment unit for opioid addiction in the country to receive federal approval under U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration regulations that took effect in July 2021.
Linda Hurley, CEO and president of CODAC, doing business as CODAC Behavioral Healthcare, said she was “stunned” when given the cease-and-desist order. The clinic has been providing doses of vital medications to combat addictions to drugs such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone for months and has not received any complaints from residents or local businesses.
CODAC attorneys and Woonsocket’s city solicitor met last week to try and settle the dispute, in what Hurley described as a “civil” conversation.
As for why Woonsocket officials decided to wait until the new year to order the clinic to vacate, Hurley wasn’t sure but speculated it may have been “triggered” by CODAC’s request for a permit from the city to install a semi-permanent warming tent inside the parking lot to deal with the winter temperatures.
The clinic has been operating at status quo in the interim, said Hurley, who has yet to receive any direct communication from Woonsocket public officials.
Hurley said the removal of the mobile clinic could have dire consequences, as those who frequent the site rely on daily medication to stay clean.
The nationwide problem of drug overdoses is especially troublesome in Woonsocket, which had 39 fatal drug overdoses in 2021, a 170% increase from 2019, according to the R.I. Department of Health. The latest tally, which has not been finalized, shows 331 fatal drug overdoses statewide in 2022. And while Rhode Island overall had an 11% jump this year in opioid-related overdose emergency department visits, Woonsocket experienced a 63% increase.
“This is critical. We service over 40 people per day,” Hurley said. “When someone doesn’t get the medicine they need for opioid-use disorder … they could die that night because the street product is so contaminated with fentanyl and a myriad of other substances.”
Hurley said CODAC plans to remain at the Clinton Street location until the conflict is settled or it receives a court order to vacate.
Requests for comment made to Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, the city solicitor’s office and interim zoning official Peter Carnevale were not returned.
Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at Allen@PBN.com.