The case for a clinic
First, I completely understand that community members may feel apprehension at the idea of having an opiate addiction treatment in your community. I’m hopeful, however, that as Johnson City citizens study this issue, they might come to understand that this treatment option is necessary and would be beneficial to Johnson City and the greater Tri-Cities area.
Opiate addiction is an epidemic in the United States, is higher in Tennessee and even higher in the Tri-Cities area.
Let me start with some quick facts about opiate treatment clinics. First, one of the clinic treatment options — methadone — is not “meth.” Meth is slang for methamphetamines — an illegal stimulant that is widely abused and has caused widespread social problems throughout our country. Our proposed clinic has nothing to do with this scourge.
Second, our clinic is not a “pill mill.” Pill mill is slang for doctors who overprescribe large quantities of painkillers that can cause addiction and abuse. Our clinic is the opposite of a pill mill. We seek to get people off pills.
Third, opiate treatment clinics provide substantial social benefits. Around 80 percent or more of opiate treatment clinic patients are employed, maintain a household and support a family. Illegal drug use or criminal activity will get a patient discharged from treatment. In contrast, 80 percent of untreated opiate-addicted people support their addiction through crime. Addicts also are more likely to leave their families, have higher rates of HIV and tuberculosis, engage in criminal activity and have higher unemployment.
This fact is commonly known as the “80-80 rule” that concisely summarizes the social decision that a community makes in deciding whether to offer a legal opiate- treatment option.
We can all agree that untreated addicts create multiple problems for cities and communities like Johnson City. Our goal is to provide the treatment that alleviates the problems associated with this epidemic.
Fourth, our clinic intends to be entirely private pay and will not take a dime from public health coffers. Allegations of a drain on public funds are simply not true. Patients pay for their own treatment, which is much cheaper than an illegal drug habit running hundreds of dollars per day.
There was a past effort to open a clinic that failed. In 2003, the Tennessee Health Facilities Commission granted a permit to open a drug treatment clinic in Johnson City.
That permit decision was reversed by an administrative law judge, who ruled that the commission did not have a quorum when it voted 8-0 to approve the certificate of need. There was a unanimous decision by the Health Facilities Commission then that there was a need for an opiate treatment clinic in Johnson City. There is an even greater need now than in 2003.
You should know that some of the patients in these clinics are injured veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have become addicted to opiates. Currently, they must drive between 100 to 200 miles a day to a clinic if they want opiate-addiction treatment. In fact, the nearest in-state clinic is in Knoxville, which is 106 miles from Johnson City. Current rules prohibit a patient from bringing home even one extra day’s dosage during the first 45 days of treatment — so a new patient must drive between 4,500 miles (out of state and back) and 9,000 miles (to Knoxville and back) during the first 45 days of treatment.
Multiple studies show distance is a primary obstacle to treatment, so requiring Johnson City residents to drive such enormous distances to seek treatment results in many just giving up and going back to pill mills, illegal pill dealers and heroin.
Right now, at least 1,000 citizens of Johnson City and the Tri-Cities area are addicted to opiates and are being treated at clinics in Knoxville and outside of Tennessee.
From an economic perspective, our clinic will be a big positive for Johnson City. Our clinic will offer more than 20 good-paying counseling, nursing and administrative positions. Our proposed location is located in the already medical-zoned part of Johnson City, like many other medical services businesses.
When we first began looking for a location, we were committed to finding an appropriate and accessible location some distance away from residential neighborhoods and schools. We determined that this is an ideal location.
Study after study shows that opiate treatment clinics raise employment rates, improve family lives and lower crime rates. A 2012 University of Maryland Medical School study found no geographic correlation between opiate treatment clinics and criminal activity.
It is important to note that people who are addicted to opiates and are seeking treatment are sick and are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Denying disabled people convenient access to treatment, and forcing them to drive hundreds (in this case thousands) of miles for treatment is a violation of federal law.
The prescription drug epidemic is an enormous problem in Johnson City and the Tri-Cities area that must be addressed like the rest of the United States. We have devoted a substantial amount of time finding a location that is not near a church, school or park.
We believe that the proposed clinic can be a part of that solution but we also know of the need of prevention, particularly as it pertains to our youth. For that reason we are prepared to fund a local program to help local at-risk youth. In this regard our goal would be to start that program soon after the clinic opens.
If you are ready to reduce crime, increase employment, reduce drug usage, reduce transmission of HIV and TB and increase family stability, I encourage you to write a letter of support:
Health Services and Development Agency
The Frost Building Third Floor
161 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.
Nashville, TN 37243
Steve Kester is manager and co-owner of Tri-Cities Holdings LLC, the business applying to open an opiate addiction treatment and counseling clinic at 4 Wesley Court. He is a part owner of nine other methadone clinics in four states.
Read more: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/Opinion/article.php?id=105510#ixzz2TC71KaA5