Supporters sway council to approve opioid clinic

A company proposing to open an opioid treatment center in Minot could have the clinic in operation this summer.

The Minot City Council approved a conditional use permit for Community Medical Services Monday after hearing from residents who have struggled with or watched family and friends battle opioid addiction.

Nick Stavros, CEO for CMS, said the company’s location in a strip mall at 300 30th Avenue NW still must be inspected by the Drug Enforcement Administration and state health and human services officials to obtain permission to open. He estimated the process could take three months.

The proposed treatment center has been controversial since CMS first proposed coming to Minot in 2014. Concerns have included increased traffic and crime, diversion of treatment drugs to the street and the attraction of drug users to Minot. The Minot Planning Commission voted 8-4 to recommend council approval last month.

The sometimes emotional testimony in support of the clinic Monday painted a different picture for the council. The council heard from an addiction counselor, a jail ministry worker, parents, a young mother and others who pleaded in favor of the clinic.

“Five years ago, I would have been like people who want nothing like this in the city,” said Paul Stroklund, Minot. That was before his daughter became addicted to a painkiller and eventually heroin. She received treatment at Heartview in Bismarck. There was no help in Minot, Stroklund said.

“We need this and we need this now,” he said. “Drug addicts are not ‘those people.’ Drug addicts can be anyone.”

Rebecca Schmaltz, Minot, spoke of her addiction to a painkiller prescribed by her doctor six years ago.

“I found it to be really helpful with the pain I was suffering from and it also gave me a warm, fuzzy, good feeling inside. Little did I know that warm, good feeling I was experiencing was the beginning of a nightmare, which was about to take over my life,” she said.

Her painkiller addiction eventually led to excruciating withdrawal and the successful treatment with the type of drug therapy offered by an opioid clinic. That success lasted only until she lost her doctor and access to the therapy. She turned to heroin on the street.

Pregnant, she eventually re-entered treatment at the CMS clinic in Kalispell, Mont., leaving behind a daughter, boyfriend and other family in Minot.

“It was the best decisions of my life and also one of the hardest,” she said. “In order for me to get the methadone treatment that I needed while I was pregnant, I had to stay out in Montana, 13 hours from Minot.”

Clean for seven months, Schmaltz said she drives to Billings, Mont., seven hours each way, for continued treatment.

“Opening a clinic in Minot can save so many lives,” Schmaltz said, citing the heroin deaths of four people she knew in Minot. “North Dakota so badly, especially Minot, needs this clinic.”

Her mother, Laurie Schmaltz of Minot, also urged the council to support the clinic and enable people to get help locally, where they can have the support of family.

Nancy Simpson, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with the city, recalled her experience in Atlanta, where she was able to support a close friend through addiction treatment because the service was available locally.

“Please allow this clinic to come. These people need help. They are not criminals,” she said.

By the time those supporting the clinic rested their case, no one rose to oppose the treatment center. The council approved the permit without dissent.

Concerns about opioid treatment had led the council to place a moratorium on clinics in October 2014 while the city studied the matter. CMS was looking to locate a clinic on South Broadway at the time. In lifting the moratorium, the council approved an ordinance requiring opioid clinics to obtain conditional use permits. Parking was an issue with CMS’s South Broadway location, which led to the selection of the new site in north Minot.

Stavros said CMS had hired staff for the South Broadway site and trained them at its Phoenix facility, but that was 2-1/2 years ago and those jobs never materialized. He said CMS will be looking to rehire doctors, nurses and counselors for the new site.