A plan to possibly locate a substance-abuse recovery center in Hamblen County is in its infancy stages and not even close to being a reality, officials with the Tennessee Opiate Initiative said.

“We aren’t even close to being ready to build,” said Gil Heinsohn, president of the non-profit TOI. “We haven’t even decided on a site yet.”

Hamblen County has been included as a possible location in a plan by Tennessee Opiate Initiative to locate a faith-based recovery program in at least 16 Tennessee counties as a way to address opioid addiction, he said.

Whitesburg residents expressed concern to the Hamblen County Commission Monday and Friday after a premature report circulated that a land parcel in the town was being purchased for the construction of a rehabilitation facility.

The group said talks about possible locations were barely in their infancy.

Still, several residents have been up in arms, saying they do not want a substance abuse center located at a possible site location off U.S. Highway 11W on farm land just north of the town.

Heinsohn, and Jeremy Graham, vice president of the initiative, said they have had multiple calls from people in Hamblen County who are interested in donating land for possible campuses. However, they said the program development is still in its infancy, as they are also looking at properties in the other 15 counties simultaneously.

Heinsohn and Graham created the Tennessee Opiate Initiative as a way to address addiction for people who they classify as level three addicts. They use a faith-based program through True Purpose Ministries to address addiction.

Heinsohn said they have developed a system identifying four categories of opiate users: level one users, who are recreational or social users; level two users, who are functioning addicts; level three users, who have become non-functioning and level four users, who have become completely dependent with no regard for other human life.

“The deaths that we’re seeing in the state of Tennessee are generally in the level three area,” Heinsohn said. “There is little to nothing available for these people, and that’s where the faith-based initiatives can fill the gap.”

The Tennessee Opiate Initiative proposed the “3/16 Program,” a plan to build 16 men’s and 16 women’s facilities over a three year period in 16 Tennessee counties. The facilities will run programs that Heinsohn said develops a foundation of faith and the ability to face adversity.

Heinsohn and Graham said they have been working in these faith-based programs for four and a half years, starting with their campus in Maryville. The Maryville campus soon expanded to Knoxville, Sweetwater and Warsaw, Illinois.

Heinsohn said the facilities are operated in three bedroom houses, built by program leaders to match the surrounding neighborhood, and admission into the program requires a two-week process in which individuals are subject to an extensive background check.

“We are not the solution for all things,” he said. “We do not accept violent felons, sexual molesters, pedophiles or child predators. What we are dealing with are young men who often are from single parent families or haven’t had enough father mentorship, and we try to fill that to help them realize that they do have a father in Jesus.”

Once admitted to the year-long program, participants follow a strict schedule including Bible studies, counseling and apprenticeship in a chosen skill. They participate in the apprenticeship program so they are able to leave the program and be employed immediately.

“At the end, you have employees who are absolutely clean and have learned the importance of connecting with their faith,” Heinsohn said. “These programs have shown to be inherently successful.”

Those who complete the first year also have a choice to continue in the program for another year and be trained as an ordained minister.

Heinsohn said the non-profit ministries are funded by donations from the community and those who apprentice the participants. In addition, they engage area churches to help support the ministry by leading recovery courses or helping run the program.

Participants pay $335 annually for housing, clothing, food, professional counseling and dental and medical care.

“Through this process, the USDA learned of our program and requested audience with us about 6 months ago,” Heinsohn said. “We came up with a funding source through the USDA to help build campuses. These are not grants, but loans that are long term.”

In addition, Heinsohn and Graham said they have been contacted by several county governments who heard about the initiative and requested them to come look at possible locations.

“We feel this is a community problem,” Heinsohn said. “It started in the communities, and the communities need to fix it.”

Heinsohn said he considers the areas where the facilities are built to be some of the safest areas in their counties. Participants are completely drug and alcohol-free and are tested weekly.

“We invite and encourage anyone to come to the Maryville campus and visit, or knock on the door of any neighbor and ask them about us,” he said. “These are kids that know they can’t keep doing what they have been doing and have personally decided they don’t want to live like that anymore. These are the average sons of the average person who needed a little help.”

He said after building the Maryville campus, it became surrounded by subdivisions. Since the houses are built as typical three bedroom home, if they ever ceased being a campus, they can be sold if needed.

Both Heinsohn and Graham said meetings with land owners only began in December and they are far from making a decision about where they will locate.