The debate over whether or not there is a local need for a 38-bed in-patient detoxification center in Lawrence Township will continue for at least another month.
The township Zoning Board of Adjustment held its fourth hearing on the matter last Wednesday, Feb. 2. With testimony still incomplete, a fifth hearing will be held on March 16 before the board votes on whether to allow Florida-based Sunrise Detox to open the proposed drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in a 17,000-square-foot building on Federal City Road adjacent to the entrance to the Traditions at Federal Point adult community.
A land-use variance must be issued by the zoning board before property owner John Simone can legally lease the building to Sunrise for use as a short-term medical center.
Last week, the board and a few dozen members of the public heard continued testimony from Dr. Leslie Hendrickson, an East Windsor-based consultant who is working with Sunrise. He told the board that federal statistics indicate that New Jersey has fewer detox programs then national averages.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people around here who could benefit from these services,” he said.
The kinds of in-patient treatment services that would be available in the Lawrence facility, were it to be approved, are currently a “relative scarcity” in this region, he said.
Hendrickson’s testimony–intended to prove that there is a significant need for in-patient detox services in the immediate area–included an observation that there are “gobs of out-patient facilities, but very few in-patient [facilities]” locally.
Hendrickson said that according to federal statistics from the 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) nearly 557,000 adults who live in the state of New Jersey have been identified as having “an unmet need for substance abuse services.”
Hendrickson said the data also shows that only 51,000 adults in New Jersey sought treatment, with about 3,800 of those adults opting for in-patient treatment, similar to Sunrise Detox’s proposed program.
Board members expressed their uncertainty about how to digest the data, asking what meaning to assign to it. Specifically, they questioned what percentage of patients would actually be served if Sunrise Detox were to open its doors in Lawrence Township.
The board argued that Sunrise would be a specialized facility and that the 557,000 figure cited by Hendrickson isn’t broken down by kind of addiction–it’s just a total of everyone suffering from various alcohol and drug problems.
To bolster Sunrise’s claim for a facility in Lawrence Township, Hendickson offered some statistics about the patients who use Sunrise’s facility in Stirling in Morris County.
“At the Sunrise program at Stirling, 30 percent of its patient pool have come directly from Mercer County and the counties surrounding it,” he said.
According to Hendrickson, the Mercer County Office of Addiction Services found in 2009 that 40 percent of county residents seeking drug or alcohol detoxification treatment must do so outside of the county.
Board members told Hendrickson that in order to accept that there is a solid need for Sunrise’s services in Mercer County, they would have to be shown that there are no vacant beds in existing in-patient residential detox facilities in the state.
The Sunrise representatives have previously said that Sunrise’s 21-bed Stirling facility has been filled to capacity since its Dec. 2009 opening.
The next hearing on Sunrise’s proposal will be held on Wednesday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Township Municipal Building at 2207 Lawrence Rd. (Route 206).