Suwanee, Georgia Laura Bardin
Welcome to Suwanee
North of Atlanta in the state known for its peaches, lies the town of Suwanee, Georgia nestled within Gwinnett County. This Southern city appears quiet with a population just under twenty-thousand, and is often seen as an ideal place for children to grow up and adults to thrive. Suwanee has several claims to fame, not the least of which comes from being named one of the best places to live. In addition, it was at one time the place where the Atlanta Falcons football team preferred to practice. (The football team relocated their practice in 2001, after enjoying eleven years in Suwanee.) It’s origins trace back to a Native American settlement and its development can be attributed to the railroad and the Chattahoochee river. The area is not only predominantly caucasian in its racial makeup, but is also a city where the median income is around eighty-four thousand dollars. The largest employers for the area are still the medical system, the school system, and county government. Other national corporations such as Walmart and Kroger exist in the area and provide jobs for many workers. In light of these factors, the unemployment rate currently stands at around five percent of the total population. Suwanee has a large number of subdivisions that split the community into subset neighborhoods. Many of these neighborhoods have homeowners association or a representative from the neighborhood with public contact information. The region is geographically pleasing as its landscape includes grassy parks and lakes within close distance, allowing for outdoor recreation.
Drug Traffic and Local Stories
Although much of the drug traffic moving through the state of Georgia is funneled to Atlanta, many of the small towns along the way, such as Suwanee, become encapsulated in the movement and feel its effects on their local area. This phenomenon has been seen on multiple occasions and has involved international groups. A prime example of this was seen in October of 2017 when a group of men that had been observed for a period of time were finally arrested and charged with trafficking in meth and cocaine and conspiracy to commit a crime. The men involved in this bust had partners spread out throughout the state of Georgia and North Carolina.While ten of the men were arrested in Gwinnett County, twenty-five others in the surrounding areas where also apprehended. It is believed that the men were working as members of a Mexican cartel as the bust included the confiscation of four hundred pounds of meth, one hundred and seventy-five pounds of cocaine, two million dollars worth of money, and ten guns. Just two months prior to the October Mexican cartel bust, an August bust found a local man by the name of Virgil Brown in possession of twenty-five thousand dollars worth of pills that could be sold on the street. Fifty year old Brown was given felony charges for his drug possession and found himself in jail by the end of the day. In the state of Georgia, prescription drugs being obtained, maintained, and used in inappropriate ways fall under the same punishment and judgement as substances with no known medical purpose. It is this stray from intended use and unauthorized possession and intent to distribute that leads to trouble.
Within the last month another incident took place in Suwanee that led to the arrest of a man and woman and their eighteen year old son. The family was held on multiple charges after being found in possession of THC wax and e-liquid cartridges as well as marijuana and cocaine. In addition, a search of their family home yielded just under five thousand dollars. While the family bust in Suwanee appeared to be a more isolated incident, many of the busts contain a multiple county link. An example of this was seen in July of 2017 when a lady known as the Meth Queen of Georgia was finally apprehended. She had developed a reputation for running a meth circuit within both Gwinnett County and Habersham County. The reach of her product was far and wide and she was considered a major player in the state drug scene.
There are personal accounts of families whose loved ones lost their lives far too soon because of the effect of heroin or cocaine or prescription pills scattered all over the pages of the newspapers. Not only for Suwanee and Gwinnett County but for the surrounding areas as well. The Wilsons are one such family whose lives have been tragically altered by heroin within Gwinnett County. Their eldest son Ryan died of an overdose and his younger brother Matthew has been in and out of court and now rehab. The father of the boys, Paige Wilson, says that his son’s involvement with substance abuse (which escalated in their twenties) was the result of their desire to find friends when they first moved to the area and the acceptance they found within the groups of teenagers who were using drugs. The statistics themselves point to the drastic change throughout the years as illicit substances crept into the small idyllic communities within the county. According to the Gwinnett Daily Post Newspaper, in 2011 there were seventy-five reported drug deaths. In 2012 there were seventy-nine. By 2013 however, there were one hundred and twenty deaths, and by 2014 there were one hundred and thirty one deaths. When 2015 rolled around the number was up to an astonishing one hundred and fifty-two deaths. Out of that one hundred and fifty-two that were reported in 2015, the cause of overdose was split between the substances heroin, fentanyl, heroin-fentanyl mix, and meth. There were twenty-two deaths driven solely by heroin, nineteen drive solely by fentanyl, and eight deaths driven by a mix of the two. The other nineteen deaths are attributed to meth. Because of these numbers and the staggering increase, sheriffs and deputies across the counties have banded together to map overdose locations and to identify them as high drug use areas that can them be monitored in hopes of preventing future overdoses. Not surprisingly, most overdoses are ruled accidental by medical examiners.
For someone living in Suwanee, Georgia there are options within the recovery process.While major cities such as Atlanta are often seen as hotspots for both use and recovery, small towns still have many possibilities open to them. In the state on the whole, drug possession is taken extremely serious, with infractions resulting in everything from suspension of your driver’s license to long prison sentences. When an individual is enduring their first conviction, they are guaranteed to have their license suspended for at least six months. When it comes to possession, all substances with the exception of marijuana, are automatically considered a felony charge. Prison sentences often range from two to fifteen years with more narcotic substances carrying up to thirty plus years of incarceration. Marijuana possession leds to between one and ten years in prison and around a one thousand dollar fine. However, the one thousand dollar fine can be increased to up to five thousand if the situation is considered serious enough.
When beginning to investigate rehab, a variety of words will appear in the literature about options and in personal conversations with representatives. It can be difficult to navigate unless one understands the purpose of each step of the process and what to expect. Assessment is often the starting place after having self-identified or being identified as potentially needing rehab. While assessment varies based on the facility and their approach, as a general rule several individuals with unique focus areas (i.e. social worker, psychologist, nurse, etc.) will work together to understand each potential clients’ circumstances. The client will provide information via questionnaires and conversation, as well as often being asked for a urine and hair sample. This process serves to help the treatment center better understand whether the client is dealing with an actual addiction to said substance, and if so what the depth of their addiction may be. Furthermore, it allows specialists the opportunity to see if their are co-occurring conditions, be they psychological or environmental, at the time of admission.
During this phase of interaction with the potential treatment center, the service provider works with the client to map out what a treatment plan would look like, and seeks to name the ways in which life will change for that individual once they enter into rehab. In doing so, they are able to identify potential barriers to the treatment process, as well as struggles that may be specific to that individual. There is often a web of uncertainty surrounding an addict’s life and having the pre-intake potential plan of treatment can help add a level of stability if it is chosen and followed.
While a client may learn some about a facility during the pre-intake, it remains very important for the client to find the rehab facility that best fits their needs and liking. Plans that are developed in pre-intake are no good if they sit idle in a file cabinet and are never shaped to the lifestyle of a client. Since rehabilitation as an overall process differs from detox in its focus on lifestyle and thought pattern change and overall transformation, the intake process is more of a partnership with the rehab facility, whether it is self-initiated or proposed by a family member or close friend. Paperwork, urine samples, and breathalyzer all generally occur during this stage.
Detox can be a step in a rehabilitation center, and it can be a separate process completely, depending on the approach of the providers. In its most basic form however, detox is the withdrawal and cleansing of the body from the drug. It can be a very difficult process as the body craves the drug and has repeated visceral reactions to not having said drug. Centers are able to help monitor the physical process and do their best to aid in the transition for the client.
The Treatment Process
One of the main benefits of inpatient treatment, or treatment within a facility that offers around the clock care and trained staff to assist with all aspects of the transition, is that the friend groups, stress points, and triggers to use are temporarily removed as one is isolated from the outside world. RTC tends to be focused on individuals who have been struggling with addiction for an extended period of time or who may have been battling another co-occurring issue. PHP (partial hospitalization) allows for the freedom of not needing to stay the night, and yet having more intensive care during the daytime hours than at normal outpatient treatment. The third option, IOP, focuses more on illnesses such as eating disorders and depression, while also treating addiction in a subtle way so that the client is able to go about their work or family life in as normal a routine as possible.
When an addict has a community supporting them and the means to start replenishing the life they diminished during their drug use, outpatient treatment is often a good option. This format often requires meeting with a therapist during the week who specializes in addiction counseling, and following their advice along with the advice of a medical provider.
Whatever route an individual decides to follow when seeking help, it is vital that an aftercare plan is in place for the time period when the initial treatment has ended. Even after returning to society or passing benchmarks for sobriety, triggers such as lifestyle changes may still lead to a relapse. Having an aftercare plan in place helps ensure the recovery will truly be long lasting. Aftercare plans in which individuals “check in” and receive remedial work/information are very common. However, for individuals needing more than occasional realignment, options such as sober living communities exist, where people trying to stay clean live and work together and follow a set of house standards and rules.
Regardless of the route, recovery is worth the effort.