CRC Health Group filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the town of Warren seeking to overturn the town’s moratorium on methadone clinics and permission to operate in the town.

The lawsuit asks the court to prevent the town from applying its moratorium to CRC and its patients. In addition, it asks the court to order the town to treat CRC’s proposed clinic as a permitted use and grant CRC’s request for reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The company is also seeking “frustration of mission damages,” costs and attorneys’ fees.

CRC Health Group proposed opening a methadone clinic in the former school on School Street after businessman Robert Emery entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the school from the town through his company Vixen Land Holdings LLC.

Residents voted at a special town meeting to enact a moratorium on methadone clinics to provide a town committee with time to revise its ordinances to deal with such facilities.

The lawsuit was filed earlier in May listing CRC Recovery Inc. and CRC Health Group as plaintiffs, represented by attorneys James Green of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Walter McKee of Augusta.

CRC attorneys claim the moratorium and the town’s reaction to the proposed methadone clinic violate the ADA law, arguing it is unlawful for local government to treat substance abuse treatment programs differently from other health or medical care services. The attorneys also argue the town has to make reasonable accommodation from its zoning laws for the facility.

Town Manager Grant Watmough said May 31 he had not even been notified that the suit had been filed.

“I’m not surprised,” he said of the suit. “But I am surprised that the town hasn’t been officially notified. We’ve been warned.”

“Our goal is to be able to provide services to people that need help,” CRC Vice President of Operations Joe Pritchard said in a phone interview May 31. “We feel people have a right to get well. That’s what we’re here for.”

He described the moratorium as blatantly discriminatory. He said the company did not want it to get to this point, but there was no other choice. He said his company tried to resolve the issues without going to court.

The suit notes that on Oct. 7, Emery, doing business as Vixen, applied to the town for a site plan review for business and professional offices. It notes that the town ordinance defines business and professional offices to include “place of business for doctors,…psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, but not including financial institutions or personal services.”

“At that time, nowhere in the town land use ordinance were methadone clinics defined or excluded,” the suit states. “The proposed clinic is most comparable to a medical office use, which is a permitted use in this zoning district.”

A footnote in the lawsuit states that on Oct. 6, Vixen Land Holdings and CRC met with selectmen and town Code Enforcement Officer Bill O’Donnell, “wherein Vixen and CRC fully disclosed the nature of this proposed use.”

The Oct. 6 meeting was held behind closed doors. Selectmen and the code enforcement officer said later in public meetings they believed they had to keep what was said during the meeting confidential because it was in executive session.

On Nov. 4, the Warren Planning Board voted to approve professional and business offices at the former school. Planning board members later stated that it was never revealed at the planning board meeting that a methadone clinic was being proposed for the school building.

“A planning board permit …was signed by the town’s code enforcement officer, Bill O’Donnell, on November 5, 2010,” the lawsuit states.

“Shortly thereafter, on December 2, 2010, on extremely short notice, and in response to vocal community prejudice against people in recovery from opiate addiction, a warrant for special town meeting was issued for the purpose of enacting an ordinance entitled, ‘an ordinance to enact a moratorium on methadone clinics’ be enacted,” the lawsuit states. “The vocal community prejudice included the following comments: ‘We do not want these people in our town’; ‘Go back to Rockland’; ‘We do not want a methadone clinic in our town’; and ‘You are shameless bringing addicts here.’ Many members of the audience wore ‘Methadon’t’ buttons. Another carried a sign apparently referring to CRC as ‘Weasels who push synthetic heroin.’ At the same meeting the planning board revoked the building permit.”

About 245 residents turned out to a special town meeting at the Warren Community School Dec. 13 and voted by an overwhelming majority in favor of a six-month moratorium on methadone clinics.

CRC argues that a moratorium on methadone clinics while allowing other medical uses is discrimination. It further argues that the town approving and then withdrawing approval of the project based on community prejudice constitutes discrimination. It also argues the town is imposing far more stringent land use requirements on methadone providers than it imposes on comparable medical uses.

In the lawsuit, CRC also provides some information about its operation.

“Substantially all of CRC’s patients addicted to heroin and other opiates are treated with methadone, but a small percentage of its patients are treated with other medications such as buprenorphine,” the court filing states. “Patients usually visit an outpatient treatment facility once a day in order to receive their medication. During the beginning of their treatment program, patients receive weekly counseling and as they successfully progress in the treatment protocol, they continue to receive counseling each month. This mandatory minimum duration of counseling may vary from state to state.”

“…As patients progress with treatment and meet certain goals in their individualized treatment plan and certain federal criteria related to time in treatment, they become eligible for up to 30 days of take-home doses of medication, eliminating the need for daily visits to the clinic,” the lawsuit states. “The length of treatment differs from patient to patient, but typically ranges from one to three years.”