BLOUNTVILLE — Second Judicial District Attorney General Barry Staubus and Criminal Court Judge James Goodwin made a pitch on Thursday to the Sullivan County Commission: “Hold onto the money.”
Staubus and Goodwin were speaking of Sullivan County’s $3 million share of a $35 million settlement of the “Sullivan Baby Doe” opioid lawsuit. Staubus said all the Northeast Tennessee counties involved in the case have received their shares of the settlement, which was reached in late July.
The two men urged commissioners to wait until they bring forth a plan for a regional inpatient treatment center before spending Sullivan County’s share.
Sullivan Count Mayor Richard Venable confirmed to the Times News the county received a $3 million settlement check last week.
Staubus said the goal should be to use the money to most effectively address drug addiction in the county and across the region. And he, Goodwin, and their fellow district attorneys and judges continue to develop a plan involving establishment of a regional treatment facility.
Goodwin, who presides over the 2nd District’s drug recovery court, said an inpatient program greatly increases the likelihood of treatment succeeding.
“We don’t want to squander the money,” Staubus said. “We want to think out of the box. We want to do something we think is truly innovative.”
What’s being proposed is gaining use of the former Roan Mountain Work Camp, which some call the Mountain City Annex, to offer inpatient treatment to addicts sent there by recovery courts in the three judicial districts covering Northeast Tennessee.
If the three judicial districts join together and are able to gain use of the property — currently owned by the Tennessee Department of Corrections — it would be an “ideal” location from which to provide long-term inpatient treatment.
Goodwin said his experience has shown him inpatient treatment is absolutely a key to success when helping addicts become sober and lead productive lives.
“Opioid and meth addicts can’t be treated in a few days,” Staubus said. “Or even a month.”
Instead, the proposed facility would likely provide inpatient treatment for 12 to 18 months, Staubus said, and have components to address sobriety, mental health, vocational training, and lessons on how to get and keep a job.
The Roan Mountain facility has 185 beds, Goodwin said, and when TDOC removed its last inmates a few months ago the facility was in pristine condition.
“So that’s going to serve the citizenry from Morristown to Mountain City,” Goodwin said. “We wouldn’t have to do a lot to get it up and running.”
Goodwin said the treatment program offered there will be abstinence-based. In other words, no suboxone or methadone.
“We don’t want to substitute one addiction for another,” Goodwin said.
Staubus said over time such a program will cut the cycle seen in local courts and jails now, which see repeat offenders arrested, jailed, and released repeatedly.
Goodwin said the purpose of the Baby Doe lawsuit was to hold drug companies accountable.
“We have the opportunity ... actually we have an obligation, to use that money to fight the very thing that caused “Baby Doe” to be born addicted to drugs,” Goodwin said.