ACLU of Virginia Offers Legal Aid to Methadone Clinics Barred From Opening Under New Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
March 3, 2005 12:00 am

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Moratorium on Clinics Violates Americans with Disabilities Act, Says ACLU

RICHMOND, VA- The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia announced today that it will offer legal representation to methadone clinics prevented from opening because of a new state moratorium. The ACLU charges that the new law discriminates against recovering addicts who are denied the services offered by the clinics.

“We’re concerned about this seemingly irrational movement to shut down methadone clinics,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “All the research indicates that these clinics provide an important service to addicted persons and that they reduce illegal drug trafficking and drug-related crimes in the communities where they are located.”

Twin bills introduced in the 2005 General Assembly by Delegate Terry Kilgore and Senator William Wampler place a moratorium on the opening of methadone clinics until the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services approves new standards for issuing operating licenses. The bill signed by the governor contains an emergency enactment clause placing the law on the books immediately rather than on July 1, the customary date for implementation of new laws. The new law requires the mental health department to issue new regulations within 280 days of enactment. That would likely mean no new methadone clinics in Virginia until 2006.

The passage of the moratorium law continues a trend begun last year when the General Assembly approved a measure that effectively excluded new methadone clinics from many urban areas. That bill prohibited methadone service providers from locating within a half-mile of schools and day care centers. It became law in July 2004.

According to the ACLU, both the 2004 and the 2005 laws violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Using the ADA, federal courts have consistently stuck down government policies that exclude or excessively restrict methadone clinics.

The ACLU also said that fears that the presence of a methadone clinic may have a negative impact on a community are unfounded. A recent article in the Roanoke Times (“Methadone Clinic Appears to Have Silenced Critics for Now,” February 26, 2005) found that no problems have surfaced in the neighborhood where the Roanoke methadone clinic is located since it became fully operational.

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