(WJHL) – Greene County leadership may not be ready to commit to a proposed $21 million drug treatment facility to be paid for with Baby Doe opioid lawsuit settlement funds.
The facility would be located in Carter County and cover that nine-county area in Northeast Tennessee, making up the areas included as plaintiffs alongside Baby Doe in the opioid lawsuit.
It would be an extended-stay drug treatment center aiming to rehabilitate non-violent drug offenders and prepare them for re-entry into society.
But other than the price tag, Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison told News Channel 11 he’s not heard much in the form of concrete plans for the management or unending costs associated with such a facility.
“There’s a great vision there’s a great willingness. There’s a great recognition that this is needed. But there’s nothing concrete out there that at least I have seen that I can go to my county commission with a great deal of faith and say ‘our region needs this. We want to be a part of it. We want to participate. This is what it’s going to cost. This is whose This is who’s administering the services. This is the liability to our county. This is who’s participating, the state’s kicking in X amount of dollars,'” he said.
Greene County received approximately $2.4 million. Funds are being dispersed based on population, and there are no restrictions on how localities use the funds.
Morrison explained that the county is using its allotment from the lawsuit to pay down county debt dealing with drug-related offenses.
“We have cases, dozens of cases that are in languishing and have languished in Greene counties court system for months and years. With a lot of these cases being pleaded down to misdemeanor cases and then dismissed for time served, and those bills fall directly on the taxpayers,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there with a lot of good ideas and we’re not going to entertain those until we pay the bills that we already had.”
Morrison added he’s not ready to ask his county commission for “a blank check” until he has more answers, but he said he’s not even sure who would be responsible for getting him those answers.
“The funding that was awarded through the settlement of these lawsuits with the pharmaceutical companies. That’s one-time money…and now we’re talking about a perpetually operating program, with employees with overhead with liability that’s going to require you know, some type of maintenance of effort,” he said.
He added that he is not ruling out participation in a facility to address addiction, he just requires a proper plan.
“Just show us a plan. We have the regional juvenile detention facility up in Johnson City that all the counties are members of. At some point, I envision that something along those lines may be set up and established and operated very similarly to that,” he said.
Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said the commission voted to give most of the settlement to the facility and keep some for the county drug court.
“But Judge Goodwin was here and he said, ‘Look, this is so important. I would rather you just give all the money to establishing this Regional Drug Treatment Center,’ and the county commission did unanimously,” he said.
So, now Sullivan County leadership is going all in on the proposed drug recovery facility.
“We can build all the jails in the world, but that’s not the solution to our major problem here in Northeast Tennessee and its drug addiction and mental health issues,” Venable said.
The Hawkins County Commission’s budget committee proposed to allocate $400,000 of its more than $1 million in settlement funds to the facility.