For almost thirty years, I have diligently been working to help Alabama with the Opioid crisis. I continue to serve on the Alabama Governor’s Opioid Council (past and present Governors) and co-serve on the National Boards related to treatment. I also take great pride in serving on the “National Stop Stigma Now” Board with leading experts in the field of Opioid treatment. I am also active with HIDTA.
Chilton County Treatment Center, a federally accredited and state regulated methadone medical facility has been open since 2012. We are actively involved in helping the community and state. We have helped Children’s Hospital every year, established a community garden, supported and trained Red Cross classes, had school supply drives, been a warming station for locals and travelers and so much more. Almost daily we also receive phone calls from people in community asking about all sorts of questions on how to help their loved ones with many forms of addiction.
The reason for this letter is the local law enforcement has been targeting our patients. This started around the time the City decided to tear down a hotel and build a new one at our interstate exit. The interstate is the main artery to the beach (I65). I have also attached some pictures to demonstrate what is our recent concerns.
There are city plans to develop a hotel practically next door to our location. Our medical building is modern and professional.
- Our methadone clinic has been a target by the local law enforcement recently.
- Patients are harassed and asked about their methadone treatment.
- The previous hotel was not only an eyesore but a place known for drug sales. I reported problems and in addition reported what I perceived as serious money laundering.
- Law enforcement has threatened the patients with a DUI simply because they have been dosed. Irrelevant how they are driving. Passengers at traffic stops are also confronted and asked if they are on methadone.
- An officer came to our office yesterday and threatened my staff with arrest for “interfering with an investigation and a traffic stop.” The Officer also aggressively stated, “If any of your employees walk out and ask what’s going on, when we have pulled over someone even on your property then you will be arrested. This is your warning.” (12/27/2022).
- Patients complain heavily about being disrespected and we are in hopes law enforcement audios will be listened to.
- The reason staff has inquired to law enforcement is because we have seen what we perceive is harassment. We have had to take videos and pictures to demonstrate the problem. No employee is trying to interfere, give false information, use any force, or lie to an officer, we are trying to help people that need help.
- Our methadone medical facility had to put up a temporary tarp to stop the law enforcement from parking beside the clinic onto private property not owned by the city to watch patients. One officer reported they recently called the owner of the lot to get permission. I spoke to the owner a month ago and he had not spoken to anyone even though his lot was being used.
- Patients are being pulled over for no blinkers, no seat belts. We have substantial videos for other establishment and many staff live around Clanton and no one has seen any establishment in the county be treated this way.
- The officers are parking in locations targeted for the clinic. Parked to be able to see who enters and leaves. They start shortly after openings and stop when we stop giving medications. We do not see any other establishment being targeted.
- I have sent out an email and started filing a complaint yesterday. I was informed it would only be looked at inner office. I will complete them but felt like this needs some more input at the Federal assistance level.
Some Quick Facts
- Patients are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act
- The United States Attorneys offices have started prosecuting law enforcement for not providing methadone in jails etc.
- Methadone treatment facilities are one of the most regulated types of medical treatment in the United States.
- The patient’s protection in treatment is of significant importance. There are specific laws created for the patients’ protection.
- Discussing a patient’s treatment etc from being pulled over for not turning on a blinker is discrimination
- Re-disseminating methadone treatment information about a patient is illegal.
- From 2012 to currently, Alabama actually wrote the most opioid prescriptions per capita than any other state
- Alabama suffers and is typically ranked at the bottom of barrel for almost everything including using scientific information
- Methadone is considered the gold standard treatment for opioid use disorder
- Opioid use disorder is a permanent brain disorder
- It is illegal to fish bowl a methadone clinic, to target the patients
- Our patients typically lead normal lives. This disorder does not discriminate anyone could have it. A family member, a neighbor etc. Our goal is to help the person to get stable and become productive.
- Our employees consist of Physicians, Nurses, Pharmacists Licensed therapists, Licensed social workers and other hard workers.
- Methadone treatment centers are accredited like a hospital, but are more heavily regulated. There is simply too much solid research that shows the benefit of a methadone medical facility to be against it.
- The ADA, the Department of Justice, the United States Attorneys Office do not allow for persons to conspire or appear to deprive another person of any rights that are protected. The United States Attorneys Office current initiative is to eliminate discriminatory barriers to methadone treatment.
- It is illegal to discriminate against people because they are in MAT. Federal laws prohibit such discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and government services. A lack of understanding about MAT – methadone in particular – is often the root cause of such discrimination.
My hope is Chilton County Officials will take this opportunity to embrace scientific based research and the effectiveness of methadone maintenance treatment. The more we can work together, the greater the effort, and the greater chance for each patient with a permanent brain disability to lead a productive life. Patients do not need to be harassed, or threatened to be jailed because they are in treatment and need to be watched. We must overcome these barriers and help those lacking the knowledge about treatment to understand how important it is in the community.
I would greatly appreciate an opportunity to give a clinic tour, give a talk to law enforcement. and meet for lunch etc, and show law enforcement what we do. I am in great hopes that Alabama will one day overcome the reputation of being at the bottom of almost everything but football. We can do this together.
The above email is from Susan Staats-Combs.