Georgia is increasing regulation of addiction treatment centers, prompted by complaints from northwest Georgia lawmakers and residents that a cluster of programs there largely treat people traveling from other states.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed the legislation on Thursday.
State records obtained by The Associated Press back up residents’ complaints. Last year, one in five people treated at an opioid treatment center in Georgia came from out of state, according to state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities records. In northwest Georgia, two out of every three patients weren’t from the state.
Patients and treatment center owners say locals’ concerns are unfair and stigmatize the facilities and people seeking help for addiction to opioids and other drugs. New patients receiving methadone must take their doses at a treatment centre and are only allowed to take a few doses home after passing drug tests and completing other forms of treatment.
Access to treatment facilities is an issue nationwide. In 2015, fewer than 20 percent of people who needed addiction treatment received it, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human services.
Georgia leads the South in the number of treatment centers with 71. Florida, with twice the population, has 69.
“It appears that we have had abuses of the system,” Deal said. “We believe just as we had to crack down on pain pill clinics, this is a crackdown in the area of the opioids themselves.”
State Sen. Jeff Mullis, a Republican from Chickamauga in the northwestern part of the state, sponsored the bill and blamed Georgia’s relatively lax rules for the number of treatment centers locating in his area rather than across the border in Tennessee where regulations are stricter.
Treatment centers now will have to have to demonstrate a need for their services before opening, similar to Tennessee’s model. The measure also limits the number of treatment centers that can open in newly created regions around the state.
The outlines effectively stop any new centers from opening in northwest Georgia; existing facilities already meet the region’s cap.
Deal also signed two bills aimed at opioid addiction on Thursday. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1,300 people fatally overdosed on drugs in Georgia last year.
The first new law expands the state’s prescription drug-monitoring program which is intended to cut down on over prescribing or prevent addicted patients from hopping from one doctor to another for a prescription.
The second bill allows over-the-counter sales of naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug. Deal’s administration began allowing pharmacists to dispense the drug in December but needed to change state law to continue the practice long term.