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Johnson City methadone clinic opposition grows

Rex Barber • Mar 17, 2013 at 10:31 AM

A resolution opposing starting a methadone clinic in Johnson City could be presented at the March meeting of the Washington County Commission.

Steve Kester, co-owner of Tri-Cities Holding LLC, a company started to locate a methadone clinic at 4 Wesley Court, said a clinic could be in place by year’s end should the Tennessee Health and Development Agency grant a certificate of need.

Tri-Cities Holding’s application for the certificate of need is in the review process right now. It will be late June at the earliest before a hearing on the certificate can be held.

The public safety committee of the county commission met Tuesday night and discussed the proposed clinic. The five commissioners on the committee unanimously approved a resolution opposing the clinic.

Roger Nave, committee chairman, put the clinic on the agenda because he had heard from many people who opposed the clinic in the Gray and Sulphur Springs communities but also from inside Johnson City.

“I listened to the people that had a concern on this and there was no one that was in favor of it,” he said. “And I did what the wishes of the people (were), what they wanted.”

Nave said County Attorney John Rambo is working on the resolution’s final wording. Nave is also requesting that state Sen. Rusty Crowe and state Reps. Matthew Hill and Micah Van Huss work in Nashville to oppose the certificate of need. This resolution approved Tuesday should be presented to the full commission for consideration March 25.

Nave thought methadone was not the best option for treatment and rehabilitation of people with drug dependency.

“We have top-class medical facilities in this area to deal with any problem that our citizens have,” Nave said. “The addicts do need help and support, but methadone is not the answer to their problems.”

The five commissioners on the public safety committee are Mike Ford, Sam Humphreys, Sam Phillips, Pete Speropolus and Nave.

The certificate of need for this methadone clinic must go through a review process from several government agencies before approval can be granted.

Mark Farber, deputy director of the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency, said the application has been filed and is currently under review for completeness.

If the application is deemed to be complete by month’s end, it will be submitted to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for a 60-day review.

After that agency’s report on the application, a hearing will be scheduled to determine if the certificate of need is approved or denied. The earliest this hearing could be held, provided the application is found to be complete by the end of March, is late June, Farber said.

In the 60-day review, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services verifies the information in the application is correct. Documentation and sources of data provided in the application are checked. Analyses for the impact and financial consequences from the proposed project are also done. Additionally, the project is checked to make sure it fits with the state health plan and to determine if any other work needs done.

The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services maintains an online database of all the various clinics it licenses. In all, licenses for 22 different kinds of clinics can be searched. The licenses are mainly for drug and alcohol services or mental health services.

A search for “alcohol and drug non-residential opiate treatment” licenses in the state returned 12 sites. None of them are located in Northeast Tennessee. Two are in Knoxville and one is in Chattanooga.

This agency has a record of 1,356 licenses for mental health and substance abuse facilities in Tennessee. In Washington County, there is a total of 31 licenses, mainly for mental health or personal support services, though some licenses have been approved for drug and alcohol rehabilitation services.

This list was current as of Wednesday.

Part of the review process involves community input to the Tennessee Health and Development Agency. This agency received six letters, all in opposition, regarding the clinic as of Friday afternoon. A public hearing had also been requested. A date for that hearing was not provided.

Another methadone clinic was proposed for Johnson City back in 2002. A certificate of need was originally granted but revoked in 2003 because of an issue with who was on the board that approved the original certificate.

This technicality may have resulted in the decision to overturn the certificate back in 2003, but a local coalition also formed in Johnson City in opposition of the clinic. This coalition included the city of Johnson City and Frontier Health, among other local entities.

Randy Jessee, senior vice president of specialty services at Frontier Health, said his organization has a stance on treatment based on what is considered to be best for the patient.

He did say some people may need treatment outside of what is offered through abstinence-based programs, which are the kinds of programs offered at Frontier Health to treat drug addictions. Still, Jessee said patients need an abstinence-based option, because that provides “the best chance at living a better life.”

“We are for detoxification from those medication-assisted sources like methadone,” Jessee said. “We do detoxification with people off of any substance, unless they might need a hospitalization.”

In a previous interview with the Johnson City Press, Kester, co-owner of Tri-Cities Holding, said his own research has found that around 1,000 people in the Tri-Cities region are seeking opiate-addiction treatment and that prescription medication abuse exists in the area. The closest locations for these 1,000 patients to get methadone treatments is in Knoxville or Asheville, N.C., Kester said, adding that translates to a 100- or 200-mile round trip depending on location.

He said it was his desire to make it easier for people with drug addiction to get help, not increase the number of addicts in the area.

Anyone interested in a public hearing on the clinic can request one as part of the certificate of need process. Letters of support or opposition can also be sent to: Health Services and Development Agency, The Frost Building Third Floor, 161 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37243.

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