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Georgia Puts A Cap On Opioid Treatment Clinics, Despite Overdose Crisis

By McCarton Ackerman 06/28/16

Georgia has quickly become the opioid treatment hub for the South and state officials believe lax regulations may be the reason behind the surge. 

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Georgia Puts A Cap On Opioid Treatment Clinics, Despite Overdose Crisis

In Georgia, apparently there is such a thing as too much drug treatment. The state has put a one-year moratorium on granting licenses to opioid addiction clinics, which went into effect on June 1, according to NPR.

Georgia state Senator Jeff Mullis, who sponsored the legislation to implement the moratorium, said it’s far too easy to open an opioid addiction clinic in Georgia because, unlike surrounding states, it doesn't have a "certificate of need" program, which requires operators to demonstrate a need for treatment before expanding or opening. Mullis also noted that Georgia has now become an opioid treatment hub for the South, with people driving hundreds of miles from surrounding states to receive care.

“If you go to the parking lot of any of these clinics in northwest Georgia, you’ll see as many Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky tags as you do Georgia tags,” said Mullis. “I don't want to take these facilities away from people who need it, but we need to manage, and govern, and regulate the ones that are here, and the ones that are coming here.” He also commissioned a committee to look into why so many opioid addiction clinics have opened in the state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 1,200 overdose deaths throughout Georgia in 2014, a 10% increase from the previous year. Opioids were a contributing factor in a large percentage of these deaths.

Georgia has 67 opioid treatment programs throughout the state, according to NPR, while Florida has 65 despite having double the population. There are also 24 opioid treatment programs in Alabama and 12 in Tennessee, while Mississippi has only one despite having a population of nearly three million.

Jonathan Connell, head of the Opioid Treatment Providers of Georgia, does not agree that the problem is a lack of regulations, but that the Georgia Department of Health is severely understaffed, making it difficult for it to properly regulate the state's 67 clinics. "We have had some clinics open up—some people with limited knowledge of the field. They have not received surveys,” said Connell. “How do we know they're functioning correctly?"

Others, like Zac Talbott, who runs an outpatient clinic in Chatsworth, are not at all happy with the moratorium. "We're in the middle of an opioid addiction and overdose epidemic," he said. "You just think about that for a minute."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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