Heroin in the Heartland
In March, we explored how heroin and opiate addiction is present in the four states and one method of treatment: the methadone clinic.
This time around, we are looking at efforts made by locals to curb, halt and treat addiction, as well as differing opinions on the treatment of heroin and opiate addiction.
The CDC reports that as many as one in four people who are prescribed opioids on a long term basis (for noncancer pain) struggles with addiction. The addiction to high-powered opiates, such as Hydrocodone Oxycodone, or Vicodin is often expensive not to mention risky. Thus, people are picking up heroin to supplement their habit. As many as 580 people try heroin for the first time each day.
Stephanie Patterson is an addiction blogger living in the four states. Her posts reach thousands of people for her hard-hitting posts about her family going through the waves of treating her daughter’s drug addiction.
"That's kind of what I want to be, the voice for the people who can't say it themselves but need to hear that somebody else feels it. That they're not alone,” Patterson said.
Patterson’s daughter was a promising cheerleader and softball player in Webb City before drugs entered her life. Her pretty face does not fit the description of what your stereotypical addict looks like. Patterson and other parents whose children have fallen victim to addiction volunteered the use of their child’s face and likeness to be used on a poster campaign hitting southwest Missouri schools this fall.
"They need to be aware that it's out there and that if it can happen to a state champion or star student or supermodel cheerleader or the shy kid down the street who you think just plays Pokemon for example, that there could be a dark side to it if they are tempted with drugs,” Patterson said.
One poster features state champion baseball player Alec French, with the words “drugs steal lives, even lives of state champions”. French passed away in December 2010 after he became addicted to drugs.
Another poster features Carthage swimmer Nate Loveall. Loveall’s family was not aware of his addiction until it was too late.
"For whatever reason it started, for whatever reason it happened, it didn't need to take his life,” father Butch Loveall said.
The posters will be up as students trickle in the hallways at the start of school in August. Some posters are already up around town, including at the Joplin police department. Good timing, as heroin and opiate addiction will continue to claim lives in the area.
"We have made a couple of seizures on heroin recently. It is a growing problem and I think it's definitely coming to Newton County. We're seeing reports all around of increased quantity of heroin. It's a growing epidemic,” chief Deputy Chris Jennings of Newton County Sheriff’s office said.
When addicts are ready to get help, they are often faced with mixed messages as far as which form of treatment is best.
The methadone clinic is a treatment option in the area, where patients ingest a liquid medicine six days a week to curb the urge for their respective drug addictions. Once patients have completed a good track-record with doctors present, they can begin to take some dosages of medicine with them for home administration.
Michelle DeLisser has a son in his 20’s who has been a patient of Joplin’s methadone clinic, BHG, for three years now. She’s unhappy with his progress.
"They have no vested interest in getting you well, because they lose a customer. There's no business that promotes having no-return customers,” DeLisser said.
Jason Bowers, program director at BHG says they are in the business of getting people well.
"Medication-assisted treatment is not for everyone. We have an intake process where we try to screen out patients that would not be appropriate for this type of treatment. Generally, the folks that come in to this type of treatment have been addicted to opiates for at least a year and have been unsuccessful in quitting because of the severe withdrawal symptoms,” Bowers said.
A person should not pursue methadone as a form of treatment if they have heart complications or severe respiratory illness, because methadone can suppress respirations.
DeLisser says she has sat in the parking lot of the clinic and watched patients sell their medicine to others.
"We have several safety protocols in place. Initially when someone comes in for treatment here they present daily for their medication with the exception of Sunday. So the only carry medication they get is for Sunday. But they have to return the bottle on Monday so that way we kind of know that they didn't give the bottle to someone else. As they phase up for treatment, they get the opportunity for more take-home medication but we do random callbacks where we say you have to bring your medicine in and we count them and make sure they have what they're supposed to have,” Bowers said.
DeLisser is wishful her son would pursue a different form of treatment. In her mind, he’s now addicted to methadone.
"This is like perpetual limbo. It's not getting him well, but it keeps them out of legal problems, it keeps them somewhat functional. Able to go to a job or whatever, as long as they're staying right on course. But nothing's being done to get them well,” DeLisser said.
DeLisser’s biggest shock since her family has struggled with her son’s addiction is the lack of available resources.
“I don't think most people know it or realize it and just assume just like I did that there's people out there to help us and there's not. That's huge. You feel pretty abandoned and alone,” DeLisser said.
Doctors are seemingly split on treatment methods. Dr. Nauman Ashraf a psychiatrist for Freeman Healthy Systems is a huge proponent of the methadone clinic, even calling it the “life-saving drug”.
"It's not forever, so it's not replacing one addiction forever, but for the time being, research shows it is helpful in terms of preventing overdose deaths and also in terms of people just getting back to using drugs,” Ashraf said.
Other doctors like physician Tamon Paige oppose the clinic, and prefer patients opt for a 12 step program.
“Replacing an addictive, depressant, and mind-altering substance with another addictive, depressant, and mind-altering substance is not a viable solution for the vast majority of people with addictions. Complete abstinence should always be the goal. There is a conflict of interest in opiate replacement programs as well; these programs, staff, drug companies, and physicians are benefited financially the longer patients stay on these drugs. Taking a drug to stop using a drug defies common sense, unless you are the company making or selling them. Essentially these programs are legalized drug dealers in my view,” Paige said.
BHG accepts patients year-round. With 37 clinics in the U.S., they are the second largest provider of medication assisted treatment for opioid addiction.?
Across town sits a treatment clinic began by a former addict. Kelly Young has been clean from heroin for 21 years.
"I wanted to open something like this for a really long time and fear held me back but I just took the plunge last January and opened up. So far it's successful and I love it,” Young said.
Young takes a holistic approach to patients who come into her clinic. She assesses their goals and aspirations and caters a treatment plan according to that. Her clinic, “Starting Point Outpatient Services” has seen a boom in patients the last six months.
"The state of Missouri provides an access to recovery grant right now and that's to help people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford treatment. Which is very important because I think what's happened here is that before, people just couldn't afford treatment and with that funding we're able to provide that so more people are coming in,” Young said.
For $30 a week, patients receive 10 hours of service from Young and her team of counselors and peer support specialists.
"Addiction is a lot more than just doing drugs. Most of us have a living problem you know. We don't know how to deal with our feelings. I try to help them deal with their feelings, share with them how I got through certain things you know,” peer support specialist Edward Huebner said.
Like Young, Huebner taps in on his own experience with drugs to help treat others. Once a business owner, Huebner said rock bottom for him was when he lost his home and business.
Another service offered at Starting Point is their holding room, where addicts can escape a bad situation and come detox during business hours. Several addicts have spent hours on the plaid couches of the holding room, eating snacks and seeking normalcy or solace from a previously bad situation.
Starting Point offers art therapy and other forms of treatment.
If you or a family member is seeking help from an addiction, contact your physician about the best form of treatment for you.
KOAM - Licensed to Pittsburg, Kansas