Addiction treatment shouldn't succumb to NIMBY logic

Published Oct. 9, 2012

Finally, Hernando County residents fighting drug addiction will have a place closer to home to get help. And county commissioners should learn their lesson about succumbing to not-in-my-backyard arguments when it comes to land-use decisions.

Last week's settlement of a federal lawsuit filed against the county by Operation PAR paves the way for the first methadone treatment clinic in Hernando on property the agency had purchased on Kass Circle. It also rights the wrong done a year ago.

A state court has ruled the unanimous County Commission met the letter of the law in revoking the Planning and Zoning Commission's decision to grant a special exception permit to allow a medical facility at the 5,300-square-foot stand-alone building. But there is no denying that neighborhood objections influenced the commission's action. The elected county commissioners' decision in August 2011 followed a two-hour-long hearing in which neighbors said they feared for their safety from recovering drug addicts, and commercial property owners suggested they could lose tenants if the clinic opened nearby.

The commission's denial, Operation PAR charged in the federal lawsuit settled last week, amounted to discrimination against drug addicts under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

The neighbors' arguments before the commission were baseless considering Operation PAR's track record operating four similar clinics in the region. The commission's discriminatory act came from singling out the type of patients to be treated. Would neighbors have complained if a medical clinic had intended to offer cosmetic surgery to the affluent, diabetes treatment to the obese, or vaccines to children?

Operation PAR wants to open in Spring Hill because it has more than 100 patients living in Hernando County who travel to Pasco for treatment at the agency's clinic in Port Richey. A state assessment also determined Hernando needed a treatment program.

Combatting the prescription drug abuse epidemic takes more than a legislative and law enforcement crackdown. It also requires communities to make treatment accessible for residents who need it.