Taking a stand
Clinic fights misconceptions about treatment

CONYERS - Is it the sign of problems for a community or a solution? For a drug treatment clinic in Conyers, fighting misconceptions about their work is as tough as treating the people who are working to break their addictions to drugs.

The Alliance Recovery Center located on Ga. Highway 20, near Honey Creek, has been called a methadone clinic and was derided in the Citizen Poll last week as a sign of blight, although the clinic has been open there since 2006.

Jill Loveridge, program director for the clinic, said the comments are unfair to them and to their clients. She said the clinic uses methadone, but explained that the proper term to use is "opioid treatment program," because clients receive counseling and other medical treatment to break their addiction.

Also, though heroin is commonly associated with methadone treatment, Loveridge said an opioid treatment program covers a wider range of drug addiction. Locally, the drug of choice the clinic works with are opiate-based prescription pain killers - Oxycontin, Percocet, Lorcet and Hydrocodone.

Loveridge said IV drug use, like heroin, is rare in Rockdale and Newton counties.

She argued because of the highly addictive nature of opiates, the problem would become much worse if treatment options were not available locally.

"When you have people with untreated opioid addiction issues, that leads to a lot of crime and emergency room visits that the county is paying for, you know, like doctor shopping and things of that nature," she said.

Alliance Recovery Center has one location in Decatur that served all of metro Atlanta for 12 years. Loveridge said clinic operators noticed in 2005 that many of their clients seeking treatment at the Decatur clinic were driving from Rockdale and Newton counties.

"We saw a lot of citizens going out from here to the city to get to us and the other clinics," she said.

Loveridge said the Alliance Recovery Center treats adults only. One client, Gregory Pickett of Covington, said he does not know how he and his wife would have been able to recover from their addiction without the clinic.

The couple has been married for 11 years and have two girls, ages 9 and 11. Pickett said he and his wife became addicted to Percocet prescribed to his wife for a back ailment. He said they used up a month's worth of the drug in a week and moved on to other pain killers from other people who sold their medications.

"I didn't do drugs until I was 18, because I worried about what my father would do to me," Pickett said. "I did different kinds of drugs and came off of them, but I could never kick the pain pill habit. The withdrawals are very difficult and painful. It was like I was afraid of getting off of them because I was scared of the withdrawals."

Pickett said he and his wife both were treated with methadone, which he explained deadened the drug craving and euphoria associated with them.

The Department of Family and Children Services threatened to take their children away because of their drug use, Pickett said. But after completing treatment and proving they were recovering through screenings, DFCS dropped the case against them.

Loveridge added that the increase of drug abuse among local adults, especially those with children, may be a sign of a troubling trend in how prescription drugs are replacing marijuana as an introductory drug among teenagers.

Nationwide, studies have found that teenagers are able to get drugs more easily than last year, although reported drug use has not changed much.

A study on drug availability released last week by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University came at a time when abuse of prescription drugs by teens appeared to be a growing national concern.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy kicked off a $14 million prescription drug campaign with a Super Bowl ad this year. The television ad portrays a drug dealer standing outside a convenience store and lamenting to the camera that his teenage customers have deserted him for the free prescription drugs in their parents' medicine cabinets.

Concerns appear to be justified by results from the CASA study, showing for the first time in the survey's 13-year history that more teens said prescription medication was easier to buy than beer. Among teens who know prescription drug abusers, 34 percent said abusers get the drugs from home, while 31 percent said friends or classmates, according to the study results.

Locally, teen drug abuse appears to remain unchanged, however. Mona Franklin, drug court case manager for the Newton County Juvenile Court, said she has not seen the volume of her case load change much recently.

The biggest drug issues facing teens and children in her court involve meth, crack cocaine and prescriptions drugs. Newton County began its drug court program two years ago. Rockdale County Juvenile Court does not have a drug court program in place at this time.

Franklin said finding treatment for teens going through her court is part of the job, but added that it is difficult to find service providers who accept their clients' healthcare benefits or those who will take on clients who have no drug treatment coverage.

"We have a list of care providers who we can send people to, but the challenge we face is getting them to the locations," Franklin said. "It's difficult to find rides to the clinics, and very few of them offer transportation."

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.