Sullivan planners to hear from methadone clinic opposition

Gary B. Gray • Jan 16, 2012 at 10:17 PM

A Piney Flats community organization has asked to attend the Sullivan County Planning Commission meeting tonight to voice their displeasure over the possible location of a methadone treatment clinic in its midst.

This is far from the first time citizens have fought back at the prospect of having drug abusers flocking to their neighborhoods to partake of yet more drugs in an attempt to end addiction. There have been similar controversies regarding the location of substance abuse clinics in Sullivan, Washington and other counties in the past.

Citizens for Piney Flats is gathering signatures on a petition opposing the move, and the group plans to deliver that message to members of Sullivan County’s Regional Planning Commission, Mayor Steve Godsey and the county’s commissioners.

Godsey and other county officials were not immediately available for comment on the issue Monday.

The group has been asking community members to attend tonight’s meeting at 6 at the Old Blountville Courthouse to voice their concerns and stand in opposition to the proposed clinic.

That request, and a copy of the rezoning request can be found at www.citizensforpineyflats.org.

Gray Shipley applied to Sullivan County to rezone property off Industrial Park Road from M-1 (Light Manufacturing District) to M-2 (Heavy Manufacturing District) for the purpose of allowing the clinic. Should the Planning Commission agree on the rezoning, a first reading of the matter would be heard by the Sullivan County Commission Feb. 21.

“I’m not familiar with any methadone clinics here, but some physicians prescribe Suboxone,” said Beverly Leigh, a Blountville substance abuse therapist. “There may be a few methadone clinics out there, but what I’m seeing is more doctors and clinics move to Suboxone.”

Suboxone is a narcotic medication used to treat opioid dependence. It is only available only by prescription and must be taken under a doctor’s care as prescribed. It is illegal to sell or give away.

On Sept. 6, 2008, the Johnson City Commission approved a new set of regulations for substance abuse treatment centers. The issue created a public uproar when residents of the West Davis Park neighborhood discovered doctors at Morgan Counseling on West Unaka Avenue had been prescribing Suboxone.

Commissioners approved an ordinance which restricted such treatment centers only as a special exception in B-4, B5 and PB business zones, I-1 and I-2 industrial zones, and MS-1 and RTP medical/research zones.

In 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation to regulate facilities using methadone substitutes for opium addiction. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, passed in both the House and state Senate without a dissenting vote.

The result: all opiate substitution-based treatment centers must obtain a certificate of need from the state. The new law moved Suboxone and Subutex into laws that previously governed methadone clinics, placing their regulation under rules laid out by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health. There are about 360 physicians in the state with that approval.

Beyond the state laws, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires what is known as “reasonable accommodations” for these facilities.

Organizations such as Frontier Health, Johnson City’s James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Watauga Recovery Center do help with substance abuse detoxification. Frontier Health no longer offers methadone treatment, and it is not immediately known what treatments/medications are offered at other facilities.

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