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DOJ inquiries into methadone clinic proposal draw response from Johnson City attorney

Rex Barber • Sep 6, 2013 at 8:39 PM

Johnson City’s attorney has filed a response to Department of Justice inquiries regarding allegations the city’s zoning policies violate federal law when it comes to allowing the operation of methadone clinics by saying the city does, in fact, have land available for such clinics.

A complaint to the Department of Justice was filed by Tri-Cities Holdings LLC earlier this year after the company was denied a certificate of need to locate a methadone clinic in Johnson City by the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency in late June.

A lawsuit filed previously on behalf of Tri-Cities Holdings alleged Johnson City and the HSDA are in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Part of the complaint involved allegations Johnson City’s zoning restrictions effectively prevented methadone clinics from locating in the city.

The complaint to the Department of Justice made the same allegations.

Among the items/questions posed to Johnson City attorney Erick Herrin by the Department of Justice was a response to the complaint and what reasons exist for denying a methadone clinic.

Herrin said it is not within Johnson City’s legal authority to approve or deny methadone clinics. That duty rests with the HSDA and the Tennessee Department of Mental Health. Tri-Cities Holdings’ proposal never made it past the HSDA.

Herrin also said Johnson City has about 90 acres of land zoned appropriate for a methadone clinic, including the so-called “Med-Tech” corridor and the former Specialty Hospital between East Unaka and East Watauga avenues.

“There are places in Johnson City, Tenn., where you can locate a methadone clinic,” Herrin said in an interview Thursday afternoon.

He said a city concern about the location of Tri-Cities Holdings’ proposed location at 4 Wesley Court was that it was on a dead-end street that could cause traffic issues.

Herrin pointed out in his response to the Department of Justice that among the concerns brought up to the HSDA in the certificate of need hearing earlier this year was the near absence of physician involvement at Tri-Cities Holdings’ proposed methadone clinic.

It had apparently been put forth that Tri-Cities Holdings would provide physicians for nine to 12 hours per week at the clinic to help with addiction services. This concern was not one brought up by the city, because the city cannot provide medical analysis, Herrin said.

Herrin said it is not true that Johnson City opposes methadone clinics in general. Rather, he said there were concerns about the business plan submitted by Tri-Cities Holdings.

“Methadone can actually be a very workable drug for people if it’s handled properly,” he said.

Herrin also addressed in his response a claim that Johnson City’s government or wider community holds a negative bias toward people addicted to drugs. He said Johnson City has a large medical community full of physicians certified to provide addiction treatment, a fact that contradicts the claim of bias against drug addiction.

In the response’s conclusion, Herrin reiterated that members of the HSDA denied the certificate of need application from Tri-Cities Holdings.

The lawsuit filed by Tri-Cities Holdings is currently situated in Nashville. Herrin has filed a motion to move that suit to East Tennessee.

Related stories:

Methadone clinic operator challenges Johnson City's zoning policy in lawsuit

Update: Proposed Johnson City methadone clinic denied

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