A drug treatment center in Pulaski will expand its facilities despite a split vote from town council that had to be broken by Mayor David Clark.
Council originally took up the matter in December but decided to table Pulaski Medical’s request to consider its options before voting on the matter. After nearly eight months of discussing the expansion, council begrudgingly voted in favor of the move after legal advice that the town could not discriminate based solely on the center’s treatment options.
Council members Tyler Clontz, Brooks Dawson and Joseph Goodman voted in favor of the expansion while Vice Mayor Greg East, Lane Penn and Jamie Radcliffe voted against the measure.
“As a town we have a very narrow task. We need to make a land use decision based on a zoning ordinance and purely a land use decision. Our decision is going to be based on what we are allowed to evaluate. An attempt to base our decision on anything beyond that land use issue would expose us to potential and expensive, and very wasteful, defense litigation that is an irresponsible use of public funds,” Clark said at the July 16 meeting, according to the agenda minutes.
Cherie Adams of Pulaski Medical spoke on behalf of the center that opened more than five years ago at a meeting in December. She told council that Pulaski Medical, located at 1006 E. Main St. next to the Shelor Motor Mile Dealership, was looking to expand its facilities because it was running out of room for the nearly 600 patients it serves. She told council the expansion would allow the center to serve 200 to 300 more patients, according to minutes from the December council meeting. She said of the 600 patients served at the center, 480 of them have Pulaski County addresses.
According to its website, the center uses medications such as suboxone and methadone along with counseling and individualized treatment plans to treat those with opioid addiction problems. Virginia has recognized this as the best evidence-based practice, and its Medicaid program will reimburse providers at a higher rate for MAT than it will for abstinence programs.
According to a database from the DEA that the Washington Post recently published, nearly 21 million pills were legally distributed throughout Pulaski County between 2006 and 2012. That comes out to an average of 85 pills per person each year. That per-pill average is one of the highest in the area and accounts for 25 percent of what was released in the Roanoke Valley during that same time span even though it is a much less populated area.
Town Manager Shawn Utt said that he didn’t believe Pulaski has more of a opioid problem than other localities in the region, though.
“I think it’s a problem that needs to be addressed everywhere, not just here,” he said in a phone interview earlier this week.
Clontz said that while he didn’t necessarily want the center to expand, the legal advice they received from the town attorney as well as outside counsel warned that the center would likely file a discrimination lawsuit against the town and had a very high probability of winning the case.
“I do think it’s a treatment but not necessarily the best treatment. I do believe there is a place for it but not necessarily there,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
According to a release from the town, the expansion came with the following stipulations: no exterior use of the property, meaning no queuing of patients outside; compliance with state and local building and fire regulations; inspection of special exception by the zoning administrator; parking area is to be brought into compliance and maintained; property is to be maintained in a clean, sanitary and sightly manner; and the special exception is for the Pulaski Medical only.
The release stated that a violation of the conditions could result in revocation of the center’s special exemption permit.
Before voting in favor of the expansion, Clark further clarified his decision.
“Council has worked tirelessly to amass reserves to improve the financial condition of the town. Such an irresponsible decision could cost our town as much as a third of our annual real estate tax revenue. We would be doing what the public wants, which we do need to do as often as we can, but we would be doing it in the wrong forum and basing it on facts and issues beyond which we are legally allowed to and reaching beyond what the federal and state governments say we can do,” he said.
No word has been given on when the expansion will be complete.
Calls to some council members and officials from Pulaski Medical were not returned for comment in time for publication.