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The city of Huntington’s attempt to regulate the growing number of businesses specializing in drug abuse treatment is heading to court.

Freedom House Recovery Inc. filed its lawsuit in Cabell County Circuit Court in November. According to documents filed, Freedom House was denied a business license Oct. 15 due to a city policy that said “sober living houses constitute public nuisances.” The recovery house requests that the court prevent the city from denying the recovery house a business license.

“It’s our position that restricting sober living houses is a violation of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the Fair Housing Act,” said Jason Goad, an attorney representing Freedom House.

In response, the city argued that it acted lawfully in the denial. The city stated that the recovery house began operating in April, before it had obtained a license; a social media post announced that bed rentals were available in the house.

This matter will have to be decided in court or in an out-of-court settlement. The case hinges on whether this particular recovery house operated without a business license, so technically it’s not about this particular recovery house or sober living houses themselves. Sooner or later, however, the question of Huntington’s role in drug addiction treatment will have to be addressed.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic reached the area about two years ago, drug trafficking and abuse had dominated much of the city’s attention. There was the crack cocaine trade centered in the Fairfield West neighborhood and fueled by dealers from Detroit. Then came the abuse of prescription painkillers followed by meth, heroin and fentanyl. Drug abuse and the accompanying drug trade have been problems in Huntington in part because users and sellers from the region found the city to be a convenient meeting place.

In response to that, Huntington became a prime location for drug abuse treatment centers. Some were outpatient, and some were residential. Some were reputable and did good work. Word around town is that some aren’t. And that’s where the problem lies.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams is doing what he can to keep the disreputable treatment places out of town. Huntington doesn’t need to be the place for phony treatment centers that import people with addiction, milk them for all the money that’s available and then dump them on the street. By law there are limits to what Williams or the city council can do. Thus, the city’s representatives in the Legislature must step up.

It’s hard to believe other cities don’t have the same problem. With the House of Delegates about to be composed of 100 single-member districts, there should be a group of lawmakers whose interests would lie in cleaning up the drug addiction treatment industry to ensure that these vulnerable state residents are getting the help they need and aren’t being scammed and to ensure cities don’t become victims themselves.

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