Trouble in Paradise? (Part 5)

Quiet, bucolic Blount County may soon become a popular destination for “drug treatment tourism,” due to the impending opening of a opioid dispensary in the City of Maryville. Worse, the operators of the drug clinic are key allies of Maryville’s new “progressive” City Councilwoman, Sarah Herron.

Drug addiction is a terrible scourge. Opioid overdoses claim many lives each year. The problem is particularly acute in Appalachia. The goal should be to help addicts kick their habit—to wean themselves off of heroin, morphine, oxycodone, or other opioids.  Getting “clean” used to be synonymous with “recovery.” However, many addiction clinics now offer something called “medication-assisted therapy” (or MAT) to opioid addicts. This consists of dispensing (under the supervision of a physician) controlled doses of opioids such as Suboxone (a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone) or methadone (a long-acting opioid) on an out-patient basis.

In other words, drug addiction is “treated” by giving addicts drugs under medical supervision. Perversely, the State of Tennessee (through TennCare) covers MAT; addicts in Tennessee can receive federally-controlled narcotics such as buprenorphine and methadone at taxpayer expense.

While MAT reduces the risk of fatal overdoses caused by the patient’s ingestion of lethal amounts of illicitly-manufactured (and highly-potent) opioids such as fentanyl, MAT does not end the underlying addiction, as abstinence does; to the contrary, MAT enables continued addiction.  Moreover, methadone—a powerful narcotic—can and does cause fatal overdoses if misused. In 2018, 3,023 Americans died of methadone overdoses. MAT is not a panacea. It does not “cure” addiction. In contrast to in-patient addiction treatment (or “rehab”) centers such as Cornerstone of Recovery in Louisville, which promote abstinence (consistent with the venerable Alcoholics Anonymous model), MATs are essentially opioid dispensaries.

Maryville already has one MAT facility in operation—East Tennessee Addiction Specialists in the Chilhowee Medical Park on Highway 321 past Blount Memorial Hospital. The presence of addicts congregating in the parking lot—waiting for their appointments–may account for the numerous unleased offices in this nearly-vacant medical park. A sign on the door of East Tennessee Addiction Specialists warns clients: “Do NOT approach patients or employees of any neighboring medical offices under any circumstances.” The few remaining tenants keep their doors locked; visitors have to call ahead.

Maryville’s second MAT is coming soon (December 15 is the estimated completion date), in the Wiley Boring Center on West Broadway, in the same strip mall as a day care center. The new MAT, to be named the Talbott Legacy Center d/b/a TLC Maryville, hopes to serve about 240 “patients” in its first year of operation, with a projected target of 750 patients. The actual addict population to be served by TLC Maryville may be much larger. The Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency (HSDA) granted TLC Maryville a “certificate of need” with a proposed service area of Blount, Loudon, Sevier, Monroe, and McMinn Counties. In these five counties alone, HSDA staff estimated nearly 4,000 individuals with an opioid use disorder (i.e., addiction) in need of treatment.

Four thousand addicts within driving range of Maryville, and now with a reason to be visiting our community on a regular basis! TLC Maryville will dispense methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. The Wiley Boring Center may soon be teeming with addicts seeking medicinal opioids, just a stone’s throw from a child care center with an outdoor playground. What could go wrong? In Georgia, where lax regulation of MAT clinics led to an influx of addicts seeking methadone—a phenomenon disparagingly referred to as “drug treatment tourism”— Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk worries about increasing crime, including parking lot brawls and people driving after abusing their medication.

In fact, methadone clinics are moving to Tennessee because Georgia began to crack down on them. We should be promoting faith-based recovery and AA-type programs grounded in abstinence, not dispensing opioids to addicts. The only “cure” for addiction is sobriety.

Nevertheless, some local elected officials are positively enthusiastic about TLC Maryville. The president/CEO of TLC Maryville, himself a former intravenous heroin user, was one of Blount County Democratic Party Chair Sarah Herron’s main supporters in her successful campaign for a seat on the Maryville City Council. After the election, Herron, who in 2017 founded the radical organization Indivisible East Tennessee, thanked two of the principals of TLC Maryville for the “profound contribution they made” to her campaign: “They invested financially and were among my most tireless volunteers.”  Herron described the opioid dispensary “a desperately-needed clinic in the City of Maryville.”

The progressive Herron, who styles herself as “an ally of LGBTQ+,” bragged during the campaign that “I don’t need one single conservative vote to win,” even though Blount County voters favored the re-election of President Trump by a margin of 71-27%. The CEO of TLC Maryville, who is an outspoken champion of progressive politics, LGBT issues, and “recovery advocacy,” may have supported Herron for a variety of reasons, but the addiction entrepreneur now has a grateful representative on the Maryville City Council. Is this just the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between opioid dispensers and local progressive pols?  What is happening to our beloved city? Herron’s promise of “transformative change” is unfolding before she even takes office!    

What’s next? More MATs in Blount County? Taxpayer-funded needle exchanges for intravenous drug users? Medical marijuana dispensaries? If you build it, they will come. In the movie Field of Dreams, this phrase referred to the spectral return of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team. In 2020, it refers to blighted cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, and San Francisco, where progressive policies have made them meccas for the homeless, drug users, and the mentally ill.  

Ironically, the state licensing of TLC Maryville, and local zoning approval, were backed by local elected officials, including Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell and Blount County Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher. Predictably, the liberal Daily Times acted as a cheerleader for the dubious project. Is the distribution of narcotics to addicts the kind of business Maryville is trying to attract? Is Maryville trying to become a hub of “drug treatment tourism”?

2020 has been a strange and tumultuous year. A leftist activist was elected to the Maryville City Council with the aid of the principals of an opioid dispensary being opened on West Broadway near a day care center.  All with the approval and support of our County Mayor, Ed Mitchell. This definitely qualifies as trouble in paradise. Wake up, Blount County residents. The best interests of the community are being sacrificed in exchange for political favors and campaign contributions.

Pay attention. Get engaged. Demand answers. Hold your elected officials responsible for reckless and irresponsible decisions.

Contact County Mayor Ed Mitchell at emitchell@blounttn.org. Call him at 865-273-5700.

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