Debi Bradley gives a long hug and a pat on the back to a young man as he walks out the door.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, right?” Bradley asks him. “Yes ma’am,” he replies with a smile.
The man has a drug addiction. He is one of many across Barrow County, the state and the country affected by the ongoing opioid epidemic that has severely damaged families and destroyed the lives of people across all races and economic statuses. And he is one of many who wanted to get better and is starting the recovery process through the Genesis Center of Winder, a drug addiction rehabilitation clinic Bradley and her husband Terry opened at 206 East Broad St., about five minutes away from their home, just under two months ago.
The medication-assisted treatment clinic provides Methadone and other heavily-regulated narcotic treatments to people with addiction to help stabilize them and get them back on their feet while also providing counseling services to help them turn their lives around and even heal their families.
When the Bradleys spoke with the Barrow News-Journal in late February, the clinic had received 20 people who had been transferred from area facilities and taken in 18 others — heroin users — directly off the streets of Barrow County.
“That’s 18 people who aren’t driving around with needles in their cars, getting pulled over by the police and going to jail,” Terry said. “This is a place to come and get help. Our whole philosophy here is, if you have an addiction problem and want help, just come in the door; that’s what we’re here for.
“A lot of people want help; they just don’t know how to go get it. Now there’s a place here for them to go.”
“For an addict to walk in this door, that’s the hardest part, so we work very hard to make sure that when they walk in here, it’s a warm, welcoming place with no judgment,” Debi added.
DRIVEN BY EXPERIENCE
For the Bradleys, helping people with addiction problems isn’t simply a labor of love; it’s a passion born out of a wrenching personal experience. Both of their adult children have overcome addictions that led the couple to give up their previous careers in the pursuit of helping others.
“We had the lily-white family where both of them went to a private Christian school and everything was perfect and good; and then all of a sudden, like most families, it wasn’t,” said Debi, who left her job as a successful real estate broker and went back to school at 55 to try to do her part toward addressing the opioid crisis. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and is now a certified medically-assisted treatment specialist and behavioral therapist.
After working off and on in faith-based recovery centers and Methadone clinics, Debi determined that she and Terry could operate one more effectively in Barrow County, where the rate of opioid-related deaths (12.37 percent per 100,000 people) was higher than the state’s (8.75 percent per 100,000 people), according to 2018 statistics from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“We talked to the sheriff’s office to see if the community could get behind it, and they said absolutely this place was something Barrow County needs,” Terry said.
While similar facilities usually take 18 months to open after going through regulations with state and federal agencies, Debi said the Bradleys were able to push for their clinic to be opened in a year.
“At the end of the day, we are handling synthetic narcotics, so there’s nothing we do that’s not heavily-regulated,” Debi said.
And the opening of their doors was also made possible, Debi said, through significant contributions from lifelong Barrow County resident Clyde Canup, a family friend whom the center is dedicated to.
The clinic is now seeing a steady stream of people, some from referrals and some who have come in through word-of-mouth on the streets, Debi said.
“Everything is laced with something these days,” Debi said, relaying the story of how her friend’s 25-year-old son died from taking a single Xanax pill laced with fentanyl. “We’re losing a generation. I see the stories every day. It’s insane, and I don’t fully understand how it got this way. It’s scary out there. It’s not safe.
“This is a safe place to come. If they come in here and take the medication we have, they’re not going to die out there. So that’s huge.”
BREAKING THE STIGMA
The Bradleys wanted the center, located along a main road into town and almost directly across the street from the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office headquarters, to be highly visible.
“We don’t want to be one of those places with no signage on a street with no lights,” Debi said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Debi said that when she first started on her venture of a new career path, she had a negative opinion of Methadone treatment and had to overcome the stigma surrounding it. Now she wants others to do the same.
“There are a lot of myths about Methadone, about how it’s just a substitute for something else,” she said. “But it has been around a long time and it really does work. It takes the cravings and withdrawal symptoms away and brings people back. There’s no difference between someone who has an addiction and is sick and someone who has diabetes and has to take insulin. Once you take opiates for a long time, your brain doesn’t function properly. These medications make the brain fire right again.
“If we’re doing it right, there’s no one walking out of our clinic high. That’s not what our purpose is.”
The clinic has hours from 5:30-11 a.m. so patients can come in daily and take medication to help them function throughout the day. The daily fee is $10 but there are no intake or transfer fees.
“We’re not going to turn down anyone who walks through that door seeking help,” Terry said. Debi said that when patients come in, they undergo a comprehensive assessment. They are drug-tested, referred to doctors if necessary and counseled and then put on a customized treatment plan. The staff includes a doctor, two pharmacists, counselors and other support staffers.
“We’re here to help people in every aspect,” Debi said. “We help them try to find a job, put their families back together. We have art therapy and group meetings. There’s always something going on here.”
FROM HOPELESS TO FEARLESS
The Bradleys describe the Genesis Center’s mission to be a “port in the storm,” helping people with addiction along the way through their journey of recovery.
“Most of the people who work here have either been in addiction and are in recovery long-term, or they have a family member that is. That’s vital. I don’t see how you can possibly counsel something you haven’t been through on some level. We’ve walked in those shoes and we get it.”
At the end of the conversation, a young woman and Genesis staffer walks in the room. She also is dedicated to erasing the stigma of Methodone clinics and talks about how she led the charge in designing the waiting room, saying she wanted to give it a clean, warm and inviting appearance like any typical doctor’s office.
She is Christine Bradley, a recovering addict and the daughter of Terry and Debi. She said that after four failed attempts through traditional rehab centers, she is clean and sober and is working toward becoming a certified addiction counselor.
“You can feel comfortable in here and you have nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.
In a letter written to the News-Journal, Christine describes her six-year battle with an opiate addiction that consumed her.
“I was slowly killing myself and completely numb to the pain I was causing to the people around me that loved and cared about me,” she wrote. “…My addiction and pride wouldn’t let me be honest with myself or with anyone else around me. I didn’t want to admit that I was an addict because I didn’t want to cause my parents the same pain they went through with my brother.”
Christine also thanked her parents for being “more relentless than my addiction” and not giving up on her.
“Through the strength of my parents, I was able to find the strength inside of myself to let my past go,” she said. “I spent six years letting my addiction take and take and take. So now it is my turn to give back.
“I turned hopeless into fearless and I am the one that got away.”