Frequent and often blatant narcotics dealing outside several Washington drug treatment centers regularly undermines the efforts of addicted patients and those working to help them, according to a federal investigation released yesterday during a congressional subcommittee hearing.
Newspaper coverage of rampant drug dealing near the D.C. government's largest methadone clinic prompted the House Judiciary Committee to call for the probe. During the past 14 months, investigators with the U.S. General Accounting Office made more than 50 visits to five D.C. treatment clinics to conduct surveillance. They did not have to look hard to find illegal dealing, according to the report, describing the areas surrounding the city's treatment centers as "a virtual bazaar of illegal drug dealing."
"Some of the drug dealers at these locations were brazen about their activities," the report stated. "For instance, on three occasions, dealers approached [an investigator] and asked if he wanted to buy drugs."
A Washington Post article in 2002 described unrelenting dealing in a McDonald's parking lot at New York Avenue and First Street NE. The drug market, dubbed "McPharmacy" by police narcotics investigators, abuts the Model Treatment Program, a methadone clinic that treats more than 300 patients a day and is within three blocks of two other treatment centers.
"It makes it so much harder for our folks who face a daily struggle just to stay clean, to get their lives back to some resemblance of normalcy," said Tyrone V. Patterson, program manager for the Model Treatment Program.
Patterson said police crackdowns have slowed trafficking near his clinic in recent months, though he said it hasn't stopped completely. He was among those who testified yesterday before a House subcommittee to support stiffer penalties for those caught selling drugs near treatment clinics and in areas where children are regularly present.
A bill sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) would impose a five-year mandatory minimum sentence on anyone caught dealing within 1,000 feet of drug treatment centers or to those undergoing treatment. A second offense would prompt a mandatory 10-year sentence.
"This will send a message [to dealers] that you can't sell drugs around places where people are trying to get help," Patterson said. The bill requires approval at several levels before it can be enacted.
The GAO investigators visited five drug clinics: the Oasis Clinic at 910 Bladensburg Rd. NE; the D.C. General Hospital facility at 1900 Massachusetts Ave. SE; the Model Treatment Program at 1300 First St. NE; the United Planning Organization Comprehensive Treatment Center at 333 N St. NE; and the Department of Veterans Affairs Substance Abuse Program at 40 Patterson St. NE. Investigators also interviewed city detectives, who said they were aware of the persistent problems at the clinics. Staff members of the clinics told investigators that they witness drug dealing regularly.
"A director at one clinic stated that he receives at least one complaint each day from patients who are solicited by drug dealers outside the clinic," the report stated. ". . .The program supervisor at another clinic told us that each month, at least one patient reports being assaulted in the vicinity of the clinic and robbed of methadone."