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Drug Treatment Tussle

There’s a political battle with real world ramifications going on in St. George. The issue, reported on by Fox 13, is whether or not a drug and alcohol “halfway house” will be allowed in the community.

Zoning requires that facilities, which fall under “group homes,” have to be approved by the city. But some residents don’t think much of such places, believing they may be a place where addicts will congregate, or that property values near a halfway house will fall.

The proposed treatment house would be an expansion of “Steps Recovery,” a program already in operation elsewhere. The property owner, Mike Jorgensen, had planned for a 24-bed facility, but to get past the political difficulties, his current plan is to drop that to just eight. With so few residents, the rules aren’t as strict and he may not need an exemption to open. Commonly, when a facility is opened with a dozen or more beds in a residential area, zoning requires an exemption, since the number of residents makes the home more like an apartment building.

Another twist in the story is that addicts (both drug and alcohol) are considered disabled persons under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so accommodation has to be made with this in mind. City ordinances cannot override the federal regulations flowing from the ADA.

Those opposing the new residential treatment house say they aren’t against drug treatment, but putting a business into an area zoned residential is just bad policy.

National politics may also figure into the mix. The start of the Affordable Care Act mandates next January (Obamcare) is expected to bring more patients into treatment programs. Policies that are allowed under Obamacare must have provisions for drug and alcohol treatment. This means that many more people will be eligible for insurance payments for the treatment. Utah, like many other states, is currently under-supplied with treatment facilities and there is a push nationwide to get more services into the pipeline.

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