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Methadone clinic may open in Johnson City

Rex Barber • Mar 5, 2013 at 9:56 AM

A certificate of need should be filed this week for a methadone clinic to locate in Johnson City, nearly 10 years after a certificate was granted but later revoked, according to a representative of the company backing this latest effort.

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 the end of the year, maybe a little longer, should the Tennessee Health and Development Agency grant the certificate of need.

According to a legal notice, the certificate of need should be filed by Thursday.

Kester said he is part owner in nine other methadone clinics in four states. He has been researching establishing a Johnson City location for a few years and sees a need for such a facility.

“We know there are around 1,000 people from the Tri-Cities area... who are going either to Asheville (N.C.) or Knoxville to receive treatment today,” Kester said.

There are five clinics in Asheville and two in Knoxville, Kester said.

He said the partners of Tri-Cities Holding want to help make it easier for local people to get treatment for drug addiction without having to travel 100-200 miles for a round trip, depending on location.

Kester is a partner in two of the clinics in Asheville and said up to half the patients treated at those locations are from the Tri-Cities region.

For purposes of the certificate of need, the Tri-Cities region is defined as the nine counties in Northeast Tennessee.

Besides the roughly 1,000 people seeking opiate addiction treatment, Kester cited the fact that the Centers for Disease Control have said prescription medication abuse in this nation is an epidemic. He said the Tri-Cities region is not immune to this epidemic.

Asked if he thought the certificate of need would be granted, Kester noted that one was approved in 2003 for Johnson City but was overturned on a technicality. Opiate abuse has likely gone up since then, so Kester thought the chances of a new certificate being granted were at least as good as 10 years ago.

Backers of most new health care projects must apply for and receive a certificate of need, including methadone clinics in Tennessee. But there is more to the process than just a certificate being granted. A license must be obtained, staff hired and local issues must be resolved.

“Of course, we have to work with Johnson City and local leaders to get it set up, as well,” Kester said.

Kester acknowledged that, historically, methadone clinics have been opposed by communities but said it is a myth that these clinics attract drug abusers.

“We’re the antidote to drug addiction, not the contributor to it,” Kester said.

Another common myth, he said, is that significant crime increases accompany methadone clinics. He cited a 2012 study that claimed otherwise and, in fact, the prevailing thought today is that methadone clinics help decrease crime because people in treatment typically have jobs to support their treatment, whereas addicts often support their habit with criminal activity.

Kester said the section of land chosen for the clinic is zoned MS-1, which is required for a clinic. He said Tri-Cities Holding looked at 50 possible sites before settling on that Wesley Court location. That particular location meets the distance requirements for schools, parks and other specific businesses.

Kester said Tri-Cities Holding has nothing to hide.

Anyone interested in a public hearing on the clinic can request one as part of the certificate of need process.

Written requests for a hearing should be sent to:

Health Services and Development Agency

The Frost Building Third Floor, 161 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37243

For more information regarding the clinic and how to send a letter, see a legal notice on Page 5B in Monday’s edition of the Johnson City Press.


Editor's note: An incorrect address was given in the original legal notice regarding the proposed methadone clinic's location, and that address was originally reported in this story. That address has been removed and the correct address added to this story.

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