Pictured above – Paul Trivette, Cedar Recovery Chief Strategy Officer

The request stated the current ordinance violated the Americans with disabilities act and the Recovery Act (both federal acts)

It was way back in 2023 when Cedar Recovery (CR), an addiction treatment facility currently located at 1225 South Willow Avenue, held a town hall in Rickman with a singular mission in mind: communicate, inform and test the waters for a possible Methadone clinic the area. 

CR had just filed a Certificate of Need (CON) with the state’s Health Facilities Commission to establish a nonresidential opioid treatment program in Overton County. The waters were choppy. What was to be a short event turned into multiple hostile hours that saw the community absorb information and make its voice crystal clear.


Cut to a few months later. CR zeroed in on Cookeville as the next target for its Methadone clinic. Once again, the addiction recovery clinic failed to find footing, this time in the city’s planning committee. CR wanted the property at South Willow Avenue rezoned and soon followed another request by Paul Trivette, CR Chief Strategy Officer, for an amendment to the zoning code that would allow methadone clinics like CR as a “use by permitted right” in the Medical Services (MS) Zoning District.

The MS District is “intended primarily to provide a centralized, compact location for hospitals, clinics, medical and dental offices and laboratories; to protect medically related facilities in the area from adverse influences, and to promote the establishment of complementary facilities,” according to the zoning code.

The request stated the current ordinance violated the Americans with disabilities act and the Recovery Act (both federal acts). After looking into it, city lawyers suggested a change. 

Last Thursday night, the City Council approved that rezoning request eliminating the restrictions that a methadone clinic (or something similar) is not allowed “closer than 1,500 feet from property zoned or used as residential, schools, child care facilities, playgrounds, parks and churches and 1,500 feet from the nearest property line” and can be “located on a street with a classification of less than major collector status.”

The amendment deleted the current code and added definitions for “Regional Medical Services” including “Any non-institutional facility in an office environment of solo or group practice providing outpatient surgical, medical, dental, chiropractic, optical, osteopathic diagnostic and similar services, for humans, by physicians, dentists and other health care practitioners that anticipates serving more than 150 patients per day or which dispenses controlled substances for use on-site, or which provides minor surgical procedures that involve the use of any general or regional anesthetic. In addition, this use includes any facility or use for which a Certificate of Need from the State of Tennessee is required for operation.”

The amendment also added “Regional Medical Services” as a use permitted on appeal if:

  • a Certification of Need (CON) is required from the State of Tennessee for the proposed use, the property owner or authorized agent shall obtain the Certificate of Need (CON) to operate the facility as a condition of Board of Zoning Appeals approval.
  • The Facility shall be fully licensed with the appropriate federal and/or state agency, if required. 
  • The facilty shall be located on a street of no less then Major Arterial Classification.
  • All activities shall be conducted within the building and adequate indoor waiting areas shall be provided.  No outdoor waiting is permitted.
  • The indoor waiting area shall be open to all patients 30 minutes prior to patients being seen.
  • The facility shall post a conspicuous sign stating that loitering is prohibited on property.
  • The petitioner shall provide the name and phone number of the community relations contact who will respond to concerns and complaints.
  • The petitioner shall provide the name and phone number of the community relations contact who will respond to concerns and complaints.
  • The facility shall not be located adjacent to a district zoned RS-20, RS-15, RS-10, RS 7.5, RS-5, or RD, or any property used for residential purposes unless separated by a public street as shown on the official street map.

According to City Manager James Mills, the amendment was reviewed and approved by the city’s legal staff with changes approved by the planning commission. A motion to approve was made by Vice-Mayor Luke Eldridge and seconded by councilman Eric Walker.

Before a vote, Dennis Whittenburg of Baxter spoke to the council on the dangers of such a clinic, and the pandora’s box he thinks it may open. 

“I had two years’ experience working in a Methadone clinic in Milwaukee,” said Whittenburg. “… You don’t know what you are getting into with this.”

Whittenburg says there is a close relationship between drug abuse and crime, citing the National Library of Medicine. 

“Drug abusers commit crimes to pay for their drugs, and this inflicts damages to the society. Moreover, many criminals are under the influence of drugs while committing crimes. Drug trafficking is another outcome of drug use,” he stated.

Whittenburger said numbers don’t lie, and he thinks the clinic will bring a community of drug addicts to the area. 

“When you start giving drugs away, you bring in drug addicts,” said Whittenburg. “… It (his prior employer) was a revolving circus and sad to see.”

County resident Gene Mullins, a retired chemist, said as he understands it Methadone works on some of the same receptors as opioids. Cedar Recovery Medical Director Dr. Stephen Loyd agreed.

“Basically,” Mullins told the council Thursday before suggesting it think long and hard about the ordinance, “you are trading one addictive drug for another addictive drug.”

Trivette says Cookeville is the “highest needed area in the state of Tennessee” for an opioid treatment facility. 

“We’ve been a trusted partner,” said Trivette. 

Elijah Willis, director at Next Step for Life Cookeville told the council the facility will unleash “hell” on the community.

“If you are really sitting in these seats for the benefit of this community,” said Willis, “you will fight like hell to keep this hell out of Cookeville. You have no idea what you are about to open. People are going to travel far and wide. I used to be one of them. … Me and five people would travel to Maryville once a month to make our $3,000 so we could stick it in our arms. It’s a revolving door. … Health is laying down your flesh not feeding it with chemicals.”

Loyd told the council the clinic is about getting people out of a cycle.

“The truth is Fentanyl has changed the ballgame and now the kids die and they die quickly,” said Loyd. “… We are talking about providing this in a way that helps them find a path for meaningful recovery. It’s not a sin. It’s not about trading one drug for another. It’s about providing help for the people of Putnam County and surrounding areas who need it without driving long distances. … Methadone is a tool, it is not the answer, but it will keep cravings at bay, and hopefully keep some of these kids alive long enough that some of the behavior change that needs to happen can happen.”

The council approved the ordinance amendment on the first reading 5-0 vote. 

A second reading on the amendment will be held May 16 at Cookeville City Hall at 45 E. Broad Street.

Photo via the City of Cookeville.

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