Johnson City

Proposed drug treatment clinic sparks controversy

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - A controversial opiate addiction treatment facility is trying to its open doors in Johnson City.

First, it must get clearance from the state with a certificate of need.

That's why officials from the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency were in Johnson City Tuesday evening opening their ears to hear what the public had to say.

The word 'methadone' is one Ed and Jenna Leach never want to hear again.

"This is my son's death certificate. He died of methadone intoxication seven years ago," Jenna Leach told a crowd of a couple dozen at the Johnson City Library.

"He would've been 28," said Jenna Leach later told News 5. "He was the light of my life."

Their son's name was Eric. He was just 21 years old and a junior at ETSU when he died after using the controlled substance.

"He got it from a friend who was going to the clinic in Asheville, North Carolina," said Jenna Leach.

Now, one of those clinics could be coming to Johnson City at 4 Wesley Court.

Steve Kester, the managing partner from Tri-Cities Holdings, L.L.C., the company wanting to open the facility, said it will be a way to slash the region's drug dependency numbers by using methadone, suboxone and other treatments to wean people off of opiates.

"By our estimates, there are about a thousand people per day from the Tri-Cities are who are either driving to Asheville, driving to Boone, driving to Knoxville, getting this type of treatment today," said Kester.

At a public hearing Tuesday, an employee and a former employee of similar treatment facilities testified to their success working with these programs in hopes of getting the company the certificate of need it needs from the state in order to open.

"The methadone we prescribe simply sustains their opiate withdrawal which allows them to focus on other areas of their life," said Michael Current, an employee at a North Carolina clinic.

"We're not just there to hand out a substitute medication. This is a comprehensive treatment program that provides a whole range of services," said a former nurse with a similar program, Kathy Ostertag.

Others told members of the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency there are non-profit programs in Johnson City to help people with severe addictions.

"We hear the stories. We know what the needs are. We are adamantly opposed to a for-profit business coming in, in my opinion, to capitalize on the devastation in our region by substance abuse," said Lisa Tipton, the executive director of Families Free, a group that offers help to those dependent on drugs in our region. 

Meanwhile the Leach's cling to the hope the certificate of need is denied.

"I don't want to see anybody go through what we've been through," Ed Leach told us.

The Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency will either approve or deny this certificate of need application at their meeting on June 26.    

The mayor of Johnson City, Ralph Van Brocklin has already said the city is against the clinic and will voice that opposition to state officials at that meeting.

If you'd like to weigh in, you are encouraged to send a written comment to the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency at this address:

Attn: Mark Farber

Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency

Frost Building

Third Floor

161 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard

Nashville, TN 37243

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