City Council asked to set aside Baby Doe opioid money for new residential treatment facility

Published 9:13 pm Thursday, March 31, 2022

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Based in large part on the pleas of two local judges, the Elizabethton City Council is considering setting aside its proceeds from the Baby Doe opioid settlement to fund a regional drug treatment center.
Council members met in a workshop on Thursday with Criminal Court Judges Stacy Street and Lisa Rice to discuss plans to create a drug treatment center in the former Roan Mountain prison.
“There were no strings attached with the money received from the settlement, but we ask that you consider using it for the residential facility that is actually an inpatient treatment facility with a program that would run for 12 to 16 months,” Street said, acknowledging that “10 to 12 years ago, a judge wouldn’t come asking for money for a drug facility.”
But street said the 25 million facility is in pristine condition and would provide a domiciliary-type setup with residents sleeping in an open setting, making it an ideal candidate for a much-needed regional treatment center that would be the first in the state.
The concept has been endorsed by state officials as well as several other government entities which received funds from the $35 million settlement in 2021.  Carter County has set aside $1.9 million for the facility while Sullivan County is holding its $4.6 million for the project. Hawkins, Greene, and Hamblen Counties have also committed to holding their proceeds until Street and Rice return to provide updated information.
The cities of Johnson City and Bristol didn’t participate in the lawsuit so were left out of receiving any funds.
Elizabethton received $389,000 in proceeds from the $35 million settlement in 2021.
Street and Rice intend to ask Tennessee Chief Operating Officer Butch Eley on Wednesday to lease the Roan Mountain facility for $1 a year for 10 years.  Also, an application will be made for a grant to provide more than $1 million a year in funding. The first-year estimated expense to start the facility is $2.9 million, and the annual operating budget is projected to be $1.8 million.
“What we want to do is set up a board that is composed of the mayors from each city and county that has decided to use their Baby Doe money and let them decide how the facility will operate,” said Street. “There will be about $12 million to $13 million held in reserve, which should help to keep the facility running for six to seven years of operation. That amount would allow for 80 to 85 people, and if you had more people obviously the cost would go up.”
The success of the judges’ recovery court shows the need for this type of program, Rice said.
“Our program has recently been selected as a Mentor Court where others come and see how our program works,” said Rice. “We are one of only 10 in the country that have received that status.”
The judges said 85% of all the cases they hear have a component of drugs associated with the crime.
One of the largest concerns according to the judges is that today’s drug of choice – methamphetamine – is being cut with Fentanyl making the user’s high larger but also leading to more deaths.
Holding up a LifeSavers breath mint, Rice said, “Fentanyl this size is enough to kill everyone in this room.”
“We are never going to stop the supply, but we can make a dent and hopefully turn the tide for some of these people,” Street said.
City Attorney Roger Day will draw up a resolution in support of the effort for April’s City Council meeting.

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