By MELINDA WILLIAMS
The town of Pulaski has been accused of harassment for opposing a possible “methadone” clinic even though state code forces it to provide an opinion on the proposed project. The Southwest Times recently learned a law firm representing Pulaski Medical LLC sent a letter to town attorney David Warburton March 1 accusing the town of engaging in “harassing” and “discriminatory” conduct by expressing opposition to the clinic. The company threatened to take legal action in federal court. The clinics dispense medications, including methadone, to persons with addictions to opiate drugs such as heroine and pain relievers like OxyContin, morphine, Dilaudid and Percocet, with the goal of weaning the person off drugs. The letter was sent to Warburton only days after the town sent a letter to Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (VDBHDS) opposing the opening of an “opioid treatment center” in the Pulaski Mall store formerly occupied by Pulaski Drugs. Town officials have acknowledged there is little, if anything, they can do to stop the clinic since it meets zoning requirements in effect at the time it filed for licensing through VDBHDS. Nevertheless, Virginia Code Section 37.2-406 states, “the local governing body and community services board shall submit to the Commissioner comments on the proposal or application” within 30 days of receiving notice that a facility is seeking licensing. “Even though the town manager and town council is (sic) aware that Pulaski Medical LLC plans to open in an area zoned B-2, which allows medical clinics as a ‘use by right,’ the town manager and town are inexplicably engaging in a pattern of harassment revealing irrational prejudices and perceptions of patients who suffer from drug addiction and who are prescribed methadone,” John S. Harrison states in the letter to Warburton. Harrison is with Broughal & DeVito LLP in Bethlehem, Pa. The letter goes on to identify the “pattern of harassment” as including the making of statements about drug addicts and methadone clinics to the public, VDBHDS and newspapers. “The discriminatory conduct includes opposing the opening of the facility to the (VDBHDS) even though they know Pulaski Medical LLC is entitled to open as of right in the B-2 district,” Harrison adds. He goes on to say that the company has “expended vast resources” in its attempt to open offices in Pulaski and that he “has been instructed” to file an action against the town and town manager in U.S. District Court’s Western District if they “do not stop their harassing conduct and opposition to the opening of the facility.” Harrison said the action will include damages “anticipated to be a significant amount” and attorney fees “as provided for in the Americans With Disabilities Act.” Warburton responded to the letter the following day (March 2), indicating the town and town manager “will continue to respond to inquiries from the public and the various media in a responsible manner. Not only is each entity permitted to speak, but the town is required under Virginia law to state its informed collective opinion of the proposed placement of the clinic.” Reasons Pulaski cited for opposing the clinic included the deaths of two Pulaski children from ingesting methadone, the potential economic impact on a community already struggling to recover from job losses and the potential harm to other businesses and services located in Pulaski Mall. Not long after the clinic proposal was made public, Save-A-Lot announced it would close and cited the clinic as one factor in the decision. The grocery store would have been next door to the clinic.