Drug treatment centers, colloquially known as methadone clinics, have popped up across northwest Georgia. The clinics have a purpose: to treat those with a drug dependency of heroin and other opioids by treating with methadone. Methadone replaces the drug the person is dependent on and is seen as an effective treatment. It’s also a controversial treatment. I’m not a doctor, so I won’t speak to the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the treatment. If there are any doctors in the house, feel free to opine in the comments.
That’s not really the issue. The issue is the number of, as an AP article that discusses this matter, “tourists” that these clinics bring to north Georgia. According to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, one in five people treated at a Georgia methadone clinic last year was out of state. In the same time frame, every two out of three people who visited these clinics in northwest Georgia were from out of state.
Why so many? Stricter regulations in Tennessee and relaxed regulations in Georgia have created an environment for these privately-owned clinics to pop up near the Georgia-Tennessee border. There is concern with criminal activity, although, the Baltimore Sun published an article five years ago that speaks to the contrary, around these clinics, and there are concerns about people driving back to their home (sometimes hours away) after receiving treatment.
Residents of northwest Georgia complained about the number of clinics opening in people’s proverbial backyards. The complaints were loud enough that Senator Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) dropped SB 88 which would establish licensing requirements for these clinics. The regulation would require a certificate of need to be obtained by the clinic in a region for it to operate. The bill, passed by the legislature earlier this year, was signed by Governor Nathan Deal just a few minutes ago today. Senator Mullis stated, in the AP article, that the northwest Georgia region would be at-capacity when the law takes effect.
It’s not the clinics themselves that are problematic, but rather the distribution. Georgia has 71 clinics, making our state number one in the number of treatment centers. Florida, with twice the population, has 69. Other states have fewer. In fact, according to the AP, about a dozen states have less than 10 treatment centers. Georgia is feeling the effects of a national issue where access to these centers can be limited.
There is still a stigma around these treatment centers, and more information about the purpose and success rates of these types of clinics are probably needed. However, Georgia looks to tamp the growth of drug treatment centers for now.