Addiction Alliance of Georgia opens new treatment center

Much of this has been caused by deaths involving fentanyl, a powerful pain reliever. The number of people who fatally overdosed on this drug has increased by 15% in Georgia, from 610 in the second half of 2021 to 702 in the first six months of this year.

In 2020, Americans were more likely to die from an opioid overdose than from car accidents or gunshots. Meanwhile, life expectancy in the United States fell by almost a year in 2021, from 77 to 76.1. The decline is largely attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, but drug overdoses contributed to the decline.

The new Allianz center treats patients from across Georgia and accepts health insurance and Medicaid. It provides free care to those who cannot afford it and raises funds to help patients in need.

“We’re definitely growing quite exponentially,” said Dr. Justine Welsh, Allianz Medical Director and Director of Addiction Services at Emory Healthcare.

Welsh and her colleagues also help people who have developed psychosis from consuming high-potency marijuana or who use other substances, including kratom, an herbal supplement derived from trees in Southeast Asia and widely available in stores across the United States. Some people say it increases their energy and reduces pain. But the US Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any uses for it, warning that it appears to have properties that can put people at risk of addiction, abuse, and dependency.

Meanwhile, the center outside its doors makes an impression. Since October, for example, at least two people working there have administered naloxone — a drug used to reverse an opioid overdose — to resuscitate people they found in distress in the Atlanta area. The newspaper obtained recordings from the Atlanta and DeKalb County Fire and Emergency Services confirming the dates and locations of the incidents they described, although patients could not be reached for comment.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

dr Elizabeth McCord, a psychiatrist who treats patients at the center, was driving to an appointment Oct. 19 when she saw a group of people hovering over someone near a Texaco gas station on Lindbergh Drive near its intersection with Piedmont Road.

McCord said one of the viewers told her that the person whose lips were grey, took kratom and overdosed a year ago. McCord sprayed naloxone into the patient’s nose and resuscitation occurred within seconds. Rescue workers arrived immediately and took over.

“This is the first time I’ve done this and I don’t think it will be the only time,” McCord said. “It was a shock to the system.”

Andy Gish, a nurse at the treatment center, has trained her colleagues, patients and their families on the use of naloxone, including Fredetra Chapman, a patient care coordinator who works at the center.

On November 10, Chapman was picking up a meal at a Mexican restaurant near Stone Mountain when someone alerted her to a person who was having a seizure. Chapman told her to call 911, then found the woman slumped in the restaurant’s bathroom. Her eyes were rolled into the back of her head, she was struggling to breathe and she was holding a glass pipe, Chapman said. Chapman sprayed naloxone into one of the woman’s nostrils. Seconds later her eyes opened. Rescuers came and gave her another dose. Bystanders who knew the woman, Chapman said, speculated that she likely used fentanyl-laced cocaine.

“I was glad I could help her,” Chapman said, “and that EMTs were right behind me.”

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta