Q&A with Pamela Marfell

January 22, 2014 

Pamela Marfell

City of Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: Co-owner/CEO/Licensed Professional Counselor, HealthQwest Frontiers

QUESTION: Many might be surprised there’s a drug replacement clinic -- a methadone clinic -- here in Warner Robins. There’s a need for that?

ANSWER: Those are outdated terms from the 1960s and ‘70s that don’t really apply, but yes, there’s definitely a need. We have HealthQwest locations here in Warner Robins, which was our first, and also locations in Douglasville, Savannah and now one we just opened in Macon.

QUESTION: What would be better terms to use?

ANSWER: We’re an opiate treatment program or OTP. The state likes to call us a licensed narcotics treatment program, or NTP, and we’re highly regulated. Probably one of the most highly regulated businesses you’ll find anywhere.

QUESTION: So to be clear, you are a private clinic, a private business, versus a community agency?

ANSWER: That’s right.

QUESTION: The old, and even new terms, bring up stereotypes of mean streets and heroin addicts. What’s the reality?

ANSWER: We don’t have an epidemic of heroin abuse here. What we do see is a lot of patients with problems with everyday prescription pain medications. So often it’s the person who has been in a car wreck or who for some other reason has gotten involved with meds, and it’s gone beyond what was intended. Prescription drug addictions are huge -- and tragic.

I’m not saying we don’t treat heroin addiction, but that’s a minority. Here, it’s prescription drugs, and the problem reaches from the poorest to the wealthiest, blue collar to professional; from someone walking the streets to someone in the nicest neighborhood. It’s people we know.

QUESTION: That puts it closer to home.

ANSWER: If you don’t have a spouse, child, parent or other close relative who’s been affected, likelihood is you have a friend that has. It’s not about dirty criminals but about people. It could be you or me.

QUESTION: Years ago, and to use the outdated terms, drug replacement therapy and methadone were a bit controversial.

ANSWER: That’s really changed. We see now that addictions are like diseases. You wouldn’t ask a diabetic or heart patient to get well but not let them take the medications they may need. You take your medicine, and you make life changes to heal. It’s the same in our program. We do have medications that help patients but also offer counseling and other help apart from the medication. We don’t pass out drugs just to replace other drugs, but we use multiple medications and involve our patients in counseling and work toward change. That’s critical, and it works.

QUESTION: What kind of success/failure rate do you see?

ANSWER: Like anything, you have to be ready to change, but for those who stay with the program we see a really good rate of success. We see about a 75 to 80 percent success rate.

QUESTION: How long is the program?

ANSWER: It varies, but ideally we see best results from a 12-month program.

QUESTION: That’s outpatient, you’re not a live-in rehabilitation center. What sort of cost is there?

ANSWER: Our fees are very reasonable. We have only daily fees. Our fees are $12 and include everything -- all the medications, counseling, doctors, labs, nurses, screenings. People are here every day and get medications from our in-house pharmacy, take their meds in front of a nurse and see their counselor as scheduled. It’s a holistic treatment atmosphere, and we monitor things daily.

QUESTION: What’s your focus? Your end goal?

ANSWER: It’s to help individuals and families heal. To help them heal from addictions and the detrimental results addictions have. We assist people to a life of sobriety.

QUESTION: Do you deal with alcohol addiction?

ANSWER: To be here, the primary diagnosis has to be opiate addictions. Again, by opiates it’s not just heroin but could be any number of generic, commonly prescribed painkillers and other medications. There may be a secondary diagnosis for alcohol or other substances, but the primary diagnosis has to be for opiates. We guide people to other services if that’s not the primary diagnosis.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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