Suit highlights suburban unease with addiction centers

CHICAGO (AP) – A Chicago-based drug treatment center, which like others nationwide has faced stiff opposition to opening suburban branches, filed a federal complaint on Tuesday to force a suburb to stop blocking its expansion plans.

The lawsuit by the Haymarket Center, Chicago’s largest nonprofit treatment service, says the city of Itasca’s rejection of a 240-bed facility in a former hotel violates U.S. laws, including l Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against those recovering from addictions.

Elsewhere, notably in Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Michigan, communities have also thwarted the opening of such facilities. Treatment advocates say the resistance highlights how everyone seems to recognize the need for the facilities amid the ongoing opioid crisis – but is working to bring them to their neighborhood.

In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said drug overdoses had increased during the pandemic, recording more than 100,000 overdose deaths from April 2020 to April 2021 – a U.S. record in a 12-month period. This is an increase of almost 30% from some 78,000 deaths in the same period the previous year, the CDC reported.

Many residents of Itasca, a middle-class community of 9,000 people, fought a two-year battle against the Haymarket settlement, saying they feared it could lead to increased crime and loss of money. tax revenue, as well as pressure on the emergency to an ambulance in Itasca. a service. Opponents organized street marches and handed out signs saying “No Haymarket”.

Tuesday’s trial says Itasca officials “strategically encouraged, intentionally contributed, and were unduly negatively influenced by this ‘not in my backyard’ opposition.” He accused officials of looking for excuses to reject the proposal amid “discriminatory stereotypes of the Haymarket mission” and the patients it would serve.

A message requesting comment left with the Itasca village government on Tuesday morning was not immediately returned.

After some 35 hearings over two years, the Itasca plan commission and village council voted unanimously late last year against approving Haymarket’s plans. Wheaton, another Chicago suburb, rejected a similar 2018 proposal for a branch in Haymarket.

The 83-page lawsuit says Haymarket went out of his way to address some of Itasca’s concerns, including agreeing to contract a private ambulance to answer calls from the treatment facility. He said he would have trained medical staff on site 24 hours a day.

Ahead of Tuesday’s filing in Chicago’s U.S. District Court, Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn and other city officials denied the discrimination supported their opposition, saying the proposed facility did not comply with criteria applied to everyone.

Pruyn said in a hearing ahead of the votes against the plans that his main concern was financial. He asserted that Itasca, one of the smallest communities in the region, “was going to have to absorb 100% of the costs, risks and burden of maintaining a facility that would accept residents beyond Itasca. “.

“We were learning more and more about the immense size and scope of Haymarket’s plan, and I kept coming back to one question: How could Itasca reasonably manage a facility like this? ” He asked. He said he concluded that “Haymarket’s demand on our village is unreasonable”.

Interest in Itasca’s plan was intense from the start. An early hearing in 2019 in a high school gymnasium that was supposed to give the public the opportunity to comment was postponed because the place could not accommodate the more than 1,300 people who showed up.

Some residents and regional leaders have backed Haymarket’s plans, saying a lack of facilities outside major cities makes suburban treatment less accessible. During a protest in Itasca, a woman who supported the facility stood up in front of the protesters, holding a photo of her son who died of an overdose.

The pressure on Itasca will not only come from the new civil litigation.

Two months ago, Chicago-based US Attorney John Lausch sent a letter to the mayor of Itasca telling him prosecutors are investigating whether the city violated federal anti-discrimination laws by rejecting Haymarket’s proposal. . The letter included a three-page list of documents sought by investigators, including copies of communications between Itasca officials.

Haymarket says that between 2017 and 2018, nearly 2,000 people recovering from addictions and residing in communities outside of Chicago sought treatment at his Chicago facility, which included hundreds of people from the Itasca area, according to the lawsuit.

People unable to pay for treatment at for-profit centers are particularly vulnerable, according to the file. He says up to 30% of Haymarket patients either have no insurance or depend on publicly funded programs, and about 70% depend on Medicaid.

Haymarket cites figures that only around 10% of those who are entitled to such services actually get them.

The lawsuit names, among others, the village, Pruyn and the Itasca Planning Commission as defendants. She seeks a court decision authorizing the opening of the establishment, and also seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as the payment of legal fees.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm

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