Drug clinic support forged – Officials investigate methodone application

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Drug addicts in Shelby County may soon walk through the doors of Shelby Treatment Center in Saginaw instead of driving to Jefferson County for methadone treatment.

But before methadone is administered in Shelby County for the first time, attorneys and law enforcement officials are investigating the process that gave the Shelby Treatment Center and its directors approval in the first place.

At least one county resident has alleged that a letter of support for the methadone clinic was forged with her name and business listed on it.

Norma Grant of Charter Funeral Home in Calera, located down U.S. Highway 31 from the yet-to-open Shelby Treatment Center, said she received a letter by fax with her own signature at the bottom of it.

The letter said that Shelby County needs a methadone clinic and that Grant supported a methadone clinic. Grant denies ever writing the letter, and said she does not support the methadone clinic.

Shelby County District Attorney Robby Owens confirmed Monday that his office is investigating the forgery. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office is also investigating.

Grant said she did not know who wrote the forged letter with her signature attached. A representative from the agency that approves applications for methadone clinics confirmed that the forged letter from Grant was included in the application for a Certificate of Need for Shelby Treatment Center.

Susan Staats-Sidwell is one applicant and director of the Shelby Treatment Center. Currently, Sidwell serves as executive director of the Northwest Alabama Treatment Center in Bessemer, a methadone clinic. She deferred questions about the alleged forgery to her attorney.

Alan Edmondson, who lives on property adjacent to the Shelby Treatment Center on U.S. 31, said he and his attorney have collected at least six affidavits from people who said they were deceived by Sidwell and the Shelby Treatment Center.

Pelham attorney Mickey Johnson is representing Edmondson and other community members opposed to the methadone clinic. Johnson said he is focusing his appeal of the Certificate of Need awarded to the Shelby Treatment Center on the lack of opportunity granted to community members and leaders.

&uot;My premise is that the people affected by this clinic did not get the opportunity to voice their concern,&uot; Johnson said.

The State Health Planning and Development Agency in Montgomery oversees applications for methadone and other medical facilities in the state. David Belser of Nabors, Belser and DeBray law office in Montgomery represented Sidwell in the application for the Shelby Treatment Center.

According to Belser, the application for a Certificate of Need for the Shelby Treatment Center included hundreds of letters of support for the methadone clinic. Belser said that nobody showed up to oppose the clinic during the application hearing. Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry and Owens both said they found out about the clinic when it was too late to appear at the Certificate of Need application hearing in Montgomery.

Belser said many people in the county seem to misunderstand methadone treatment.

&uot;We get the Certificate of Need, and now you’ve got the community that does not understand the issue,&uot; Belser said.

Methadone is a pharmaceutical drug administered by medical professionals in the treatment of prescription drug and heroin addiction.

Aside from possible city ordinances, Belser said the Certificate of Need from the State Health Planning and Development Agency is the only legal obstacle in opening a new methadone clinic.

Shelby Treatment Center will be open in Saginaw, an unincorporated portion of Shelby County. Originally, Sidwell had proposed opening the clinic in Calera. Belser said the Certificate of Need does not specify where the clinic can open.

&uot;When you apply for a Certificate of Need, you can open anywhere in the county,&uot; Belser said.

Belser said he was not sure of any specific, overriding reason as to why Saginaw was chosen as the ultimate location for the Shelby Treatment Center.

This week, Edmondson helped organize a second weekly meeting opposing the Shelby Treatment Center. Last week’s meeting included comments against methadone treatment from Sen. Hank Erwin, Curry, Owens and several county commissioners