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Catoosa County Farmer's Market opens June 3

Attention all local farmers and all lovers of local vegetables, fruits and crafts:

Beginning June 3, Catoosa County Parks and Recreation will host a weekly farmer's market at the Amphitheater by the Colonnade in Ringgold.

"We had two exploratory meetings about it," says Parks and Recreation Director Travis Barbee, "and we had a good turnout of local farmers. We want to create an opportunity for local growers and crafters to make their products available to the public and a chance for the public to buy local."

Spaces will rent for $5. Vendors need to sign up ahead of time. They need to bring their own tables and tents, though neither is required. "It's okay if people want to sell out of the back of their trucks," says Barbee.

Barbee says he's also interested in hearing from local musicians who would like to perform at the markets.

Market days will be every Saturday, beginning June 3, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. "It will be rain or shine, unless it's a really heavy rain," says Barbee. "We haven't decided how far into the next season we'll run the market. We'll play that by ear, but I'm guessing we'll go through November."

The address for the market is 220 Catoosa Circle. For more information, call 706-891-4199 or visit catoosarec.com/catoosa-farmersmarket.html.


Georgia losing patience with drug treatment tourists

RINGGOLD — In the northwest corner of Georgia, where cows and crops vastly outnumber people, a small cluster of privately owned treatment centers have sprung up in recent years for heroin and prescription painkiller addicts.

And most of the patients aren't even from the state.

Relaxed rules in Georgia and stricter regulations in Tennessee created a recipe for the facilities to locate a few miles from the state line. Each year, the Georgia centers draw thousands of addicts from Tennessee, some who drive for hours to get treatment. Locals are fed up with the onslaught of out-of-towners who pick up their meds and leave, and they complained so loudly that Georgia legislators recently passed a law essentially preventing any new clinics from opening up in the area.

"Georgia is getting inundated with these treatment centers and they're really drawing patients in from outside of our area and that's a big concern," Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk said. "We can't be the solution for all the surrounding states."

Georgia leads the South in number of treatment centers with 71. Florida, with twice the population, has 69.

Last year, one in five people treated at an opioid treatment center in Georgia came from out of state, according to state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities records obtained by The Associated Press under an open records request.

In the northwest corner of Georgia, two out of every three patients were from out of state.

Sisk has been with the sheriff's office for 27 years. He said that with the growth of the treatment industry, he worries about increasing crime, including parking lot brawls and people driving after abusing their medication.

Patients and treatment center owners say the sheriff's concerns are overblown and perpetuate the stigma of trouble around facilities that are often disparagingly called "methadone clinics." A 2016 report in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that, in general, there is more crime associated with a convenience store than opioid treatment programs. Counseling is also a large part of successful treatment.

"Medication is really the smallest part of what we do," said Zac Talbott, the owner of Counseling Solutions in Chatsworth, Georgia, one of the five facilities near the state line.

The shortage of treatment facilities is a problem nationwide. More than a dozen states have fewer than 10 clinics each.

In 2015, fewer than 20 percent of people who needed addiction treatment received it, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human services.

One of Talbott's patients is Ashley Gardner, who lives two hours away in Maryville, Tennessee. The 34-year-old woman said her addiction started in the seventh grade when she wanted to numb the pain after she was sexually assaulted. She was assaulted another time, and saw both fathers of her two children die from an opioid overdose.

She said her parents disowned her, and by the time she was ready to get help, she was sneaking pain pills out of an emergency room and shooting up in the hospital parking lot.

Gardner has tried treatment facilities closer to her house in Tennessee, but she said they were overcrowded and expensive. Instead, she travels to Georgia where methadone, her preferred medication, is cheaper. Tennessee

Medicaid doesn't cover the drug, and she pays for it out of pocket in Georgia.

"It's about half a tank of gas to get down here. But it's worth it you know? I mean, it's saving my life," she said. "It wouldn't really matter if it was a full tank to me."

When patients first start receiving methadone, they have to take the medicine at the center and are only permitted to take one dose home per week. As patients build trust with their therapist and pass drug tests, they are slowly allowed to take a few doses home at a time. It takes two years of continuous treatment before a patient can take home a month's worth of methadone.

Other drugs approved by U.S. regulators to treat opioid addiction do not need to be administered at special treatment facilities the way methadone does, and doctors have been turning to them more often in recent years.

Vivitrol, an injection of the drug naltrexone, is meant to help a patient stay sober after detox by blocking the effects of opioids. Suboxone, a combination of the opioid buprenorphine and naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids, is meant to help reduce cravings from opioids while also preventing people from feeling a high.

Methadone has been used to treat opioid addiction for 40 years and is cheaper. While some maintain that addicts should aspire to complete abstinence, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Surgeon General and several federal agencies have all come out in support of medication-assisted treatment.

Georgia state Sen. Jeff Mullis represents much of the northwest corner most affected by the influx of treatment centers. The Republican led a push this year to pass a new set of statewide regulations on the industry.

The new rules will require programs to demonstrate a need for their services, similar to the certificate of need licensing program already used in Tennessee. Previously, open competition was really the only constraint on the number of clinics in Georgia.

Mullis's bill also limits the number of centers that can open in newly established regions around the state. His region will already be at capacity as soon as the bill is signed.

"It's really an issue of distribution," said Mullis, explaining that he doesn't have a problem with the treatment centers, but he is opposed to being the provider of service to neighboring states.

Tennessee state Rep. Ryan Williams said community resistance and strict rules there are the biggest barrier toward expansion of treatment centers.

"The challenge is that there's not a lot of education out there," the Republican said.

"Georgia is getting inundated with these treatment centers and they're really drawing patients in from outside of our area and that's a big concern. We can't be the solution for all the surrounding states."

— Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk


County, Ringgold Youth Sports Association at odds over gym use

Catoosa County officials are butting heads with the members of the Ringgold Youth Sports Association over the use of a county gym to the point where certain teams are locked out of practice pending an investigation.

On Tuesday night, May 2, RYSA President Earl Epps spoke out to the county Board of Commissioners against allegations that he's been allowing a team not part of RYSA to use the Poplar Springs gymnasium illegally.

Epps claims the saga began on April 12 when County Manager Jim Walker texted him saying that a couple of the commissioners had questions for him about his travel basketball team known as the "Thunder".

Epps also claims new Parks and Recreation Director Travis Barbee contacted board members, the association's treasurer, and the baseball director asking questions about the team and Epps.

"He (Barbee) didn't come right out and say it, but he implied that our association would be better off if they got rid of me," Epps said. "I found that to be inappropriate -- first of all for the county to get involved with our board, and second, for him to be meeting with our board about board matters."

Epps says the last week of April was when business really picked up, as he was told on April 24 that practices were cancelled for that night and that the locks had been changed.

The next day, Epps said, the county requested his keys to the old locks, at which time he discussed the matter with commissioners Jim Culter and Ray Johnson.

"On the 27th, I was told by Mr. Barbee that our Thunder kids

would no longer be able to practice or play in county facilities, and that all practices were cancelled for that night," Epps said. "Twelve teams lost their practice for that week. These are kids of our county who play in our leagues currently. ... It's just wrong."

According to County Manager Jim Walker, the whole ordeal was initiated by concerns from members of RYSA that Epps was allowing the Thunder team to use the gym. Walker even took the time to read an email reply he sent to a parent who inquired as to why the players had been locked out of the gym.

"In the email, I apologized for the inconvenience and explained that members of your RYSA board of directors contacted the county approximately three weeks ago to lodge formal complaint that Thunder basketball was a separate organization with separate financing outside of the regular RYSA league," Walker said. "Our preliminary investigation concluded that the RYSA league teams have an agreement with our county to practice in our gyms. Thunder basketball teams do not have such an agreement. It would be illegal per the Gratuities Clause of the Georgia Constitution for the county to allow Thunder basketball to use our gyms for practice without a formal contract and without some reciprocal benefit for the county. Your association President on one day claims that Thunder is a separate organization, but on other days claims it is part of RYSA. To eliminate this confusion, we have asked for a complete audit and review of RYSA's financial books and the financial books of Thunder basketball. We've also asked for the names and addresses of all Thunder players and participants. We cannot move forward without this audit. The county has an obligation, and we cannot and will not allow our facilities to be used illegally. Again, this entire issue was brought to us by your board members."

The issue got a little more clouded when several parents and Epps chimed in that all the Thunder players are in fact registered through RYSA.

"A group of our league teams choose to travel together to play in tournaments on the weekends and raise separate funds outside of RYSA to pay for that travel and trips," Epps explained. "All our players are all register through RYSA. ... The only difference in all of this that's been singled out is the name that's on the front of their jerseys. How does the county justify locking these kids out? How can they lock these kids out of the gym when they've participated in this league most of their youth sports lives? What's changed? It's basically the same parents, the same facility, the same kids, I'm the same person. ... Why are the locks being changed? This is just a bunch of adults hurting kids."

With more than 25 sports parents in the commission audience, many scoffed at the idea that a board member would have made such an allegation.

"Do you care to name the board member," one lady asked.

"It's a lie," another yelled.

Commission Chairman Steven Henry says the county is simply doing its duty to look into the matter, to make sure all the teams in the county get to use the facilities under the same rules.

"I just want y'all to understand, we're not trying to stop anybody from playing ball," Henry said.

A couple of parents spoke out against the coaching tactics of Epps and others. Parent Matt Williams said his child was told not to smile during competition, while Bret Sullivan claimed Epps got upset with his daughter when she played a pickup game with another team.

"I'm sorry, but what our kid does on a Friday night when RYSA doesn't have a basketball game, is not RYSA's business, and not Earl's business," Sullivan said. "She can play where she wants to play, and shouldn't feel threatened and feel like she's going to get kicked off the team because she went and helped another team out."

As it stands now, the Thunder players are still unable to use the facilities until Epps and RYSA meet the requirements of the county's investigation. Walker has asked for the name and address of all Thunder players, a request Epps claims will prove that all the kids are actually registered through RYSA to begin with.

"All the Thunder teams are registered under RYSA, but the select raise their own funds outside of RYSA to travel and play in additional tournaments," Epps said. "You play in the league during the week, and then you travel on weekends to tournaments, which is completely separate finances and completely separate everything, but it's the same kids that are registered through RYSA. You can separate it and make it two separate leagues, but it's still all RYSA kids."

County Attorney Chad Young and Henry agreed that all Epps and RYSA need to do is get the player information to Barbee so the county can look it over.

"That's all we're asking for, and all this could be over," Henry said.


Farmers' Market open in Walker

It's summertime, and what is more exciting than the prospect of fresh local produce provided by your nearby farmers' market?

This season, don't forget to buy your locally grown seasonal produce, baked goods and gifts at Battlefield Farmers Market.

Starting on May 6, you can find Battlefield Farmers Market at the Walker County Ag Center, 10052 U.S. Highway 27, in Rock Spring (adjacent the Civic Center) every Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. until noon through Nov. 11.

The Battlefield Farmers Market is not only a great place to purchase local produce and goods, but it is a place to enjoy the day with family and friends. This year, to celebrate our Opening Day, we will be "Meet your Local Farmers" and sign up day for new members as well as some crafters with Mother's Day quickly approaching. This season, all

This season, all sorts of wonderful things will be offered at the market! Things like locally grown fruits and vegetables along with locally made breads will be sold as well as items for the home and gifts. And who better to buy them from than your own community members?

There's no better way to strengthen your local community than to shop and eat locally! By visiting the Battlefield Farmers Market, you support our local famers as well as local businesses and community members in our area. Also, you support yourself by providing healthy and fresh food for you and your family.

Battlefield Farmers Market also accepts EBT, Debit and Credit cards! If you have any questions about how to use your EBT or Debit card while at our market, please contact Renea Sumner, market manager, at the market booth/tent during market hours.

Battlefield Farmers Market is always looking for new local members for our market. Local is Walker, Dade, Catoosa, Chattooga, Floyd, Whitfield, and Gordon Counties in Georgia and Hamilton, Marion, and Bradley in Tennessee, and Jackson and DeKalb in Alabama. Applications can be found on our website at www.battlefieldfmkt.org or from the market manager and for any questions email us at bfmanager@battlefieldfmkt.org or at e1naenae@comcast.net.