ST. GEORGE — The True North Recovery and Wellness Center is opening an opioid recovery clinic in St. George in hopes of filling a need left in the community after the closure of BrookStone Medical Center earlier this year.
Nate Jones, executive director of the Orem-based clinic, said True North will offer counseling, group classes and medically assisted treatment to “anybody and everybody” who may need it.
Jones said they first considered expanding their business to Southern Utah last year; however, because there were already several centers offering medically assisted treatment in the area at that time, they made plans to build elsewhere.
However, after the abrupt closure of BrookStone Medical Clinic in May, which left around 90 patients scrambling to find treatment, he said they decided they wanted to help.
“I’d always wanted to do one down in St. George because I love Southern Utah, but then when they (BrookStone) closed and we just happened to be right at the beginning of preparing to expand, it just totally diverted our plans,” Jones said.
True North will offer many of the same services that BrookStone did, primarily medically assisted addiction treatment using methadone and Suboxone, which help patients gradually taper off their use of heroin or prescription opioids such as codeine or morphine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone or hydrocodone.
Jones expects that a significant number of people will be seeking treatment, as both the opioid crisis and the St. George community are growing.
Opioid addiction is a significant problem in Utah. In 2017, there were 456 opioid-related drug overdose deaths in the state, making up 70% of all overdose deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Medically assisted treatment, including methadone and Suboxone, have been proven to be clinically effective in treating opioid addiction, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Because methadone and Suboxone can be addictive, they must be used exactly as prescribed. They can only be legally administered by a licensed practitioner and are given to patients on a daily basis for at least a year.
“These medications change lives. They’re miracle drugs when used the right way,” Jones said.
Few other clinics in town offer medically assisted treatment options, and those that do have had to take on a significant number of patients since the closure of BrookStone.
Darrell Askey, CEO of Southwest Spine and Pain Center, said that while they haven’t had to turn anyone away, it’s been difficult to keep up with the number of people coming to them for Suboxone treatments.
Because of the large volume of calls, some of the patients who have come to them have had to wait weeks to get an appointment, while some have been referred to other clinics. Several of the center’s practitioners have become licensed to administer Suboxone to help keep up with the demand.
“There’s such a significant need that I think is unrecognized, or largely goes unrecognized. I think we didn’t understand it until the BrookStone situation happened as to how really significant this problem is in our community,” Askey said. “So I think to have another resource will be very valuable for the community and the people that so sorely need it.”
The St. George Metro Treatment Center is the only other clinic in town offering methadone treatments. They had committed to accepting all of BrookStone’s patients in need of the medication; however, the clinic does not accept insurance, which posed a problem for many patients who can’t afford to pay for the treatment out of pocket.
One of True North Recovery and Wellness Center’s primary goals is to work closely with Medicaid recipients, as well as accept a large number of other insurance providers.
“Sometimes the lower-income population, it’s just underserved,” Jones said. “And they happen to need treatment just as much or more than any other demographic. So we’re really going to put a lot of focus on them as well down there.”
True North not only wants to serve St. George but hopes to reach the surrounding communities including Cedar City and Mesquite.
“We have a really good grasp on the needs in Utah. … We’re going to really make sure that our program down there is skewed to that community,” Jones said.
In addition to treatment, the center will also provide a variety of classes, including weekly DUI courses and parole and probation addiction courses sometimes mandated by the courts, as well as anger management classes and courses for families. They will also offer personal counseling services.
Jones said he has reached out to the people previously employed by BrookStone, asking them to apply to work at the new center. The response so far has been positive, and he expects that at least a few will join the new team at True North.
“The community is already familiar with that staff for the most part, and I think it would be really beneficial,” he said.
Jones said he does not yet know exactly how many patients they will be able to treat. Their goal is to be able to accommodate as many people as walk in the door, and they are prepared to hire more staff as necessary to meet the needs of the community.
“What we’ve done up here in Orem is we’ve grown as we’ve needed to, and so as we get a higher patient load we’ll hire more people,” he said. “We’re preparing to be able to serve anybody and everybody that comes to our door.”
True North has already secured a building, located in a medical complex near 700 S. 900 East, which is currently undergoing light remodeling. Once they’ve passed inspections by the state and the Drug Enforcement Agency, they’ll be prepared to open. They plan to open their doors no later than the end of the year; however they have already begun scheduling patient appointments. Those interested in treatment can contact them at 435-673-1004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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