ELYRIA — City Council members are approaching the proposed expansion of a Sheffield-based drug treatment program into Elyria with cautious optimism as they listened Monday to the organization’s pitch for a conditional-use permit.
Concerns range from the group’s lack of state-certified counselors to a shift away from The LCADA Way over treatment philosophies. Residents also have told Council members that they worry a treatment facility will bring more drugs into the area.
However, faced with the growing need to address the opioid epidemic in more ways, Council continues to listen while also taking steps to move the project slowly along.
Monday’s approval by the Community Development Committee moves the matter to the city’s Planning Commission meeting April 3. The matter then will return to City Council for three readings with a public hearing set for 7 p.m. May 21.
That’s the important meeting as it will be the final time Council will hear from residents, said Councilman Tom Callahan, D-at large and chairman of the Community Development Committee.
The Primary Purpose Center wants to move into the former Elyria Health Department at 202 Chestnut St. to open a women’s facility. City officials agreed earlier this year to rezone the building to make way for the facility, but must also grant the conditional-use permit before operations can begin.
Monday’s meeting gave Primary Purpose its first opportunity to explain its approach to elected leaders.
“We want to show them a foundation of recovery and what it is like to live drug free,” said Chuck Craft, co-founder.
The last point speaks to not only the approach of Primary Purpose, but also to why it does not have a full partnership with The LCADA Way.
Craft said the agency currently serves 130 treatment beds in Lorain County and continues to be affiliated with The LCADA Way, which it respects, but prefers a total abstinence approach to treatment instead of one supported by medical interventions like suboxone or methadone.
Mayor Holly Brinda described the two groups as having a difference of opinion when it comes to the approach to treatment.
William Denihan, a volunteer board member and retired public servant from Cuyahoga County, said both approaches work and have a place in the community. He said Primary Purpose would help a population of addicts that is underserved.
“When this opioid problem started, it was not really something that affected women,” Denihan said. “But women are catching up real fast in terms of the disease and the capacity is not there.”
Denihan retired as CEO of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County in August. His decadeslong career includes tenures as the executive director of the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services and Cleveland public safety director as well as numerous other positions in public service.
He said even with Primary Purpose opening in Elyria, the county would be woefully short of what it needs to address treatment needs.
“One of the reasons we haven’t been able to catch up to this disease is the lack of beds,” he said.
Denihan said The LCADA Way is an outstanding agency that Tom Stuber runs very well.
“Just because they don’t get along on some issues doesn’t mean it’s bad,” he said.
Craft said the Primary Purpose approach continues to work for men and women all over the county and believes it does so without changing the neighborhoods they are in. The centers are where people who want help go, not addicts who actively want to use.
“There are drugs everywhere, and we are trying to make a difference to get people back on their feet and back into the community,” he said.