Zachary C. Talbott (“Zac”), aged 35, a native of Tennessee, is administrator and program director of Counseling Solutions Treatment Centers, based in Georgia. When he was at the University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Social Work, pursuing his Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, his addiction to prescription opioids and heroin spun out of control, leading to an academic dismissal.
After several years of “spiraling into the darkest places opioid addiction can take an individual,” as he puts it, Mr. Talbott found evidence-based treatment at an opioid treatment program (OTP). When he achieved a stable dose of methadone and took part in individual counseling, the “old Zac” quickly re-emerged. He then became involved in recovery advocacy, joining a Tennessee/Northwest Georgia Chapter of the National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery (NAMA), and serving on the national Board of Directors of NAMA until March of 2017.
Since he started his long-term recovery, Mr. Talbott has re-enrolled in the MSW program his addiction robbed him of years ago, and has opened two opioid treatment programs under the name “Counseling Solutions Treatment Centers”: Chatsworth, Georgia, in February 2016; and Brasstown (Murphy), North Carolina, in March 2017.
Mr. Talbott serves as program sponsor of both OTPs, and as program director of the OTP in Chatsworth, Georgia. He also co-founded, along with Sharon Dembinski—at the time, director of quality and clinical services for MedMark Treatment Centers—the Methadone (and buprenorphine) Discussion Group on Facebook.
As a “closed group,” where only approved members can see posts or make comments, the Methadone Discussion group has grown into the largest online community for Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) support and information, boasting more than 8,000 members. Most members are methadone and buprenorphine patients, but some are MAT providers and family and friends of MAT patients. Mr. Talbott was committed to ensuring that those enrolled in or considering MAT would always have a safe place to go; where credible information could be provided, and shared experiences in recovery would be a source of strength.
Mr. Talbott is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Level II (CADC II), through the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Certification Board of Georgia (ADACBGA); a Certified Addictions Counselor, Level II (CAC II), through the Georgia Addiction Counselors Association (GACA); a Medication-Assisted Treatment Specialist (MATS), through the ADACBGA; an Internationally-Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor (ICADC), through IC&RC; a Registered Addiction Specialist (RAS), through the Breining Institute; and a Certified Medication-Assisted Treatment Advocate (CMA), through NAMA Recovery. He currently serves on the Credentialing Committee and Board of Directors of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Certification Board of Georgia (ADACBGA), and the Georgia IC&RC affiliate and addiction counselor credentialing body, as well as on the Board of Directors of the Southeastern Institute on Chemical Dependency (SICD).
Mr. Talbott has been a Recovery Month Planning Partner with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for the last four years. Despite his ability to successfully engage in medically supervised withdrawal, slowly tapering the dosage of his medication in transition to a medication-free state of recovery, he acknowledges that “one size does not fit all.” He believes firmly that our response to the opioid crisis must include public education that acknowledges long-term or even indefinite maintenance with methadone or buprenorphine may be necessary for some people, as it is for any other medication for any other illness. He remains passionate about evidence-based treatment approaches, and will always be, first and foremost, a patient advocate.
Mr. Talbott feels it is important that clinicians and medical professionals not lose their place in the leadership of an ever-merging field. Always remembering and acknowledging that opioid treatment programs first and foremost provide medical treatment and clinical care to an overly stigmatized and vulnerable population is critical to turning around the current opioid addiction and overdose epidemic. While he acknowledges that OTPs have a business component that is important to ongoing sustainability, he believes it is critical to ensure that physicians with expertise in addiction medicine, and counselors or clinical social workers with training in substance use disorders, remain in the leadership positions of companies that operate opioid treatment programs and office-based medication-assisted treatment clinics.
Dr. Mary Jeanne Kreek, one of the three founders of methadone treatment, alongside Doctors Vincent Dole and Marie Nyswander, inspired Mr. Talbott so deeply that her words remain his daily mantra. Dr. Kreek told him at the 2013 AATOD Conference in Philadelphia: “The love and care of patients is what everything we do and every decision we make should ultimately be about.”