Plans for methadone clinic move forward

Published 11:25 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A methadone clinic to treat opium addicts could open in Clanton as early as next May after the plans gained state approval Monday.

The State Health Planning and Development Agency (SHPDA) awarded Chilton County Treatment Center a certificate of need necessary to open for business.

A certificate of need is a legal document SHPDA must grant health care providers before they can open for business or expand existing ones.

The center’s owner and operator, Susan Sidwell, said she’s excited to have the certificate after a three-year legal battle.
She said she has approximately 100 patients traveling from Chilton County to receive treatment at a similar facility she operates in Alabaster.

“The people that have the disease of opium addiction can now be treated in their own county,” Sidwell said.

The center uses methadone to treat addictions to heroin and strong painkillers like Lortab and Oxycontin.

Sidwell plans to open the facility, which is being built on Holiday Inn Drive, as early as May 2011. The estimated cost of the project is $724,500.

When news first broke about the proposed center in late 2007, many residents around the area signed petitions against it. Local leaders including District Attorney Randall Houston, Sheriff Kevin Davis, Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver, Rep. Jimmy Martin and Sen. Hank Erwin all came out in opposition to the center.

Since then, the center was denied its certificate of need twice, in October 2007 and then again in March 2009.

The Certificate of Need Board denied the center’s first request in October 2007. Sidwell appealed that decision, asking for a fair hearing trial, which was overseen by former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts.

After the fair hearing, Butts again denied the center its certificate in March 2009 – a ruling that stood until Circuit Court Judge Johnny Hardwick reversed the decision Sept. 17.

In his order, Hardwick wrote that the fair hearing officer’s order was “clearly erroneous” and was “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and characterized by an abuse of discretion or a clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.”

He further wrote that no facts were presented during the fair hearing that “could justify a finding that the location of the proposed facility violates any provisions of the SHP [State Health Plan] or is not ‘locationally appropriate.’”

District Attorney Houston, one of the more outspoken critics of the center, is out of town and couldn’t be reached for comment. His staff said they were disappointed at the decision though.

Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver said he had just learned of the reversal Tuesday morning, but was trying to find more details about it.

Sidwell acknowledged critics of her center but invited them to visit the Shelby County Treatment Center to see what work is done before casting judgment.

“I welcome anyone to visit to see what it’s about,” she said.

She said studies have shown methadone is the most effective medication for treating heroin addiction. She said the center would work to help people battle their addictions, to become productive citizens.