Inmates in Connecticut are allowed access to methadone treatment for opioid use disorder, but Georgia officials don’t have clear policies to determine if they can grant those under state supervision access to the medication, an audit report found. Dan Toce, a heroin addict, takes methadone at the New Haven Correctional Center in Connecticut, May 23, 2017. (Christopher Capozziello/The New York Times)

Audit: Barriers prevent adequate treatment for opioid abuse in Georgia

Georgia does not provide adequate access to medical treatment for opioid abuse, whether it is because it’s difficult for those in rural areas to get to a facility or state agencies that supervise people don’t have clear guidance on providing the medicine, an audit found recently.

The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts on Monday released a study of the state’s efforts to help residents who are addicted to opioids get the necessary treatment.

According to the study, nearly 1,000 Georgians died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016, which was up from a reported 633 overdose deaths in 2012.

The audit found that programs in place don’t adequately provide the treatment — medicine and counseling — that studies find is best to help those addicted to opioids.

“Georgia has not developed a comprehensive strategy to address all aspects of the opioid epidemic,” auditors wrote in the report.

Auditors recommend Georgia create a statewide strategic plan that focuses on preventing, monitoring and treating opioid abuse.

Georgia Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said that process already has begun.

“No single agency has the ability on its own to eliminate the opioid epidemic in Georgia,” Nydam said. “DPH is working with more than 30 members of a statewide task force and other stakeholders to address the opioid crisis in the state.”

Auditors estimate about 180,000 Georgians abuse opioids. In fiscal 2017, fewer than 30,000 received medication-assisted treatment, the study found. The fiscal year runs from July through June.

There are 72 narcotic treatment centers — commonly known as methadone clinics — across the state. Northwest Georgia, along the Tennessee and Alabama borders, is prime territory for the clinics, where there are more facilities per person than any other region of the state.

Georgians in rural areas have to travel a greater distance than those in more populated parts of the state, which auditors said is a hindrance since daily treatment often is required.

A bill that went into effect in May that aims to spread the clinics across the state will divide the state into 49 regions and limit the number of facilities in each region to four. Areas that already have more than four methadone facilities will be able to keep their facilities.

Auditors recommend the state study where there is a need for and capacity to provide treatment and open more facilities in those areas.

State agencies that supervise people — such as those on probation — don’t always allow them to get medication-assisted treatment.

Consistent policies need to be created to ensure opioid abusers access to treatment, auditors said.

“When individuals cannot access, they may seek other less effective treatments or no treatment at all, increasing the risk of trauma, violence, communicable diseases, and death,” the auditors wrote.

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Staff reporter Jeremy Redmon contributed to this article.