Tri-Cities Holdings has been trying to site an opioid treatment program (OTP) in Johnson City, Tennessee, and finally, things are looking up. After a federal Department of Justice investigation and a series of court hearings focusing on Johnson City’s violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in discriminating against people seeking treatment for addiction, the city has capitulated, saying it would consider changing the rules for the first time in 10 years.
Erick Herrin, attorney for Johnson City, told reporters that the lawsuit, which was heard in early December, wasn’t the reason for the city’s change of heart regarding OTPs. Rather, they found that there wouldn’t be as much traffic as they anticipated. The city still wants OTPs to be in areas that are zoned for medical practices.
OTPs would no longer have to be 200 feet from schools, day care centers, parks, or liquor stores and restaurants that sell alcohol. Physicians’ offices don’t have such regulations, so under the ADA, neither should OTPs, lawyers for Tri-Cities argue.
Tri-Cities was the first OTP to apply for a Certificate of Need (CON) for an OTP in Johnson City. Watauga Recovery Center, which specializes in buprenorphine treatment, also wants to open an OTP, but missed the deadline.
The big picture is a good one for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) patients, according to Zachary C. Talbott, CMA, director of the Tennessee Statewide and Northwestern Georgia chapter of the National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery. “It’s encouraging to note the Johnson City attorney’s language has changed,” Mr. Talbott told AT Forum. “He now talks about ‘when’ methadone clinics come to Johnson City,” stressing that more than one OTP will be coming. “The importance of the work of patient advocates in launching complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice and working in partnership with attorney James A. Dunlap Jr., and Tri Cities Holdings, cannot be overstated,” he said, adding, “When a disabled class of Americans organizes and fights back, they win.”
“We’re very pleased to see that Johnson City has begun dismantling its decade-old illegal zoning ordinance,” Mr. Dunlap, who represents Tri Cities Holdings in the Johnson City case, said. “Clearly, this is a result of our ADA lawsuit.”
The ultimate goal, said Mr. Dunlap, whose law firm is based in Atlanta, is to bring an OTP to an area with the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation. “Hopefully, the federal court of appeals will finally bring an end to this blatant discrimination against the disabled on both the state and local level in northeast Tennessee.”