Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Problems with Treatment

I was on methadone for quite some time throughout my years of addiction. I had been on and off methadone several times. My years of addiction were waning as the use of suboxone became popular, so I do not have much personal insight on this treatment. I do think that this treatment would also apply to my theory here. Of course, all treatment could apply this theory in part.
I think that methadone itself is not the problem. I always hear that methadone is just trading one addiction for another. And it is, as long as the program simply doles out methadone and does not work with the clients much further. I think it is the personal work that is the key to a successful recovery from addiction, especially opiate addiction which I have first hand knowledge of.
How do we get the addict from point A to point Z? That is the real question. When I first decided to get off heroin, I would have never considered a program that did not use some kind of substitute. I had tried to kick numerous times, sometimes cold turkey, other times with the use of pills. Sometimes I only stayed clean for a few days, other times much longer. But the fact of the matter is I did not stay clean forever with those options. The addiction always ended up creeping back in.
For an addict to think about the possibility of NEVER EVER using another opiate again is one of the scariest thoughts in the world. When you are caught up in the web of addiction, a substitution such as methadone feels like the only viable option. Methadone can get an addict from point A to point B. It can get them to stop using heroin, which is the first step. It is getting them beyond that point where we see most programs falling short.
Methadone is excellent in theory. The theory behind it is that you give the addict that kick that he needs. You keep him out of withdrawal and still in a state of feeling good. The addict is able to stop the criminal side of the dope game with methadone. The addict is able to go about usual business with methadone, like working and keeping a roof over their head. Then, the addict works on his life. Hopefully, improving it enough so that he will not want to go back to getting high. You put the addict in a position where he would not trade all his accomplishments and the glory of life that comes along with this work. Then, you can wean the addict off methadone. In theory, this would work. Of course, its not that simple with all addicts. Like most addiction treatment, this could be quite a process of ups and downs. A process that could take months or could take years. A process full of stumbles and falls sometimes, before an addict can walk straight again.
The problem is that most methadone clinics simply give out methadone and do not offer the proper counselling. They do not require the proper counselling. And so many junkies are not ready for the proper counselling. So many junkies simply want the medicine and that is it. That is when you try it again and again until you get so sick and tired of it that you have to stop the cycle. Or that is when you become a lifer. And no one should want to impose their own sentence of life.
The problem also lies in the fact that treatment for addiction is very expensive. And most addicts are broke by the time they seek help. I understand that clinics are providing what they can at the minimal fee an addict can afford. When I first contemplated methadone, I could not afford it. I could not afford to come up with the eighty to a hundred to start the program. I could afford a fifty to hundred dollar a day habit, but to pay for methadone instead and not get sick in the process was not as easy. It was generally like one or the other. Sometimes when you paid for the clinic, you had to wait several day to get enough medicine. Or you had to wait until the following day to get the medicine...I could not get on methadone and avoid withdrawal. So I just kept using dope.
I remember the first time I got on methadone was in Savannah, Georgia. I was sick and I was desperate. I was tired of the irregular supply of heroin in this area and the constant struggle to stay well. I showed up at the clinic in pain. Serious pain. every addict the recognized the pain on my face. I could not pee in a cup because I was so dehydrated and had been throwing up. They told me I could not be medicated for 4 days if I couldn't pee. They suggested I go out in the parking lot and find something, then come back in four days. They told me to keep maintaining and using for those days...or else they knew it could be a while before I came back.
When I first got on methadone, I was not really ready to quit using. I was tired of the grind, and I needed a break. I did not stop obsessing about drugs. Getting up and going to the clinic became my daily fix. All the people at the clinic still talked of drugs, and surrounded themselves with drugs and other users. You weren't thrown out of the program for using, it just kept you that much further from getting take homes. Drug talk is abound most methadone clinics. Most first time methadone users are not ready to get clean. And some methadone users never really want to get clean.
I do feel it important to break the whole habit eventually. Getting up to get to the clinic everyday still keeps the addict in an addiction cycle. You wake up, and go get your fix. Once I broke that cycle, I started to wake up...and get something to drink before I thought about a fix. I remember writing one time, shortly after kicking how dope was the first thing I thought about every morning and the last thing I thought about every night. It wasn't until I realized that I had broken this pattern that I felt completely clean. My thoughts were no longer obsessed with dope. And this took a while. It takes some time to undo the patterns we have set in our minds for years and years.
Addiction is a system of cycles. We do not always get it the first time. That is part of the disease. Relapse is part of the process. Over time, my clean time became more frequent and the using times in between became shorter and shorter. It took so many failures to finally succeed at this. it is not easy...and there is to quick fix cure all.
I think treatment should not be so expensive in light of the very nature of addiction. Treatment is not a one shot deal quick fix. It is not a cure all. And it may have to be repeated.
If we could get more government support to help these addicts, such as those on methadone. If we could get more counselling available to these addicts on methadone. Give them an incentive to attend a clinic that had a counselling and support service that was an integral part of it. Such as, with clean time the addict gets a reduced fee in addition to take homes. Or it is free to get in the program with state support, and some kind of contract where violation of it would negate state support.
I was at a clinic where you had to see a counselor once a month. My counselor would organize her CDs when I had my session. Even if I had been receptive to counselling...this would have deterred me. There is just not enough support out there for people who need it.
But, then I do not know the statistics behind it all. I once heard something like only 6% of heroin addicts will ever get clean for good. But then I think those are just the statistics they use to scare you in these HBO Documentaries I used to watch. I know quite a few addicts than have been clean for years, have good jobs and families now...and are not going back to being an addict ever. Then, I know people who have OD ed and people who are lifers. So, I really do not know anything beyond my first hand experience. Maybe it is just not worth the effort and money because to many people fail. Once a junky, always a junky some say. (But I disagree with vehemently.) Methadone clinics are quite lucrative I believe, but I am sure quite a headache...maybe anyone with enough goodwill to want to help these people as well as motivation and know how, they would go into another business.
The bottom line...treatment for addiction in this country is a PROBLEM. It is too expensive for most addicts to afford. Take Dr. Drew and his celebrity addiction...most of us could never afford that! A good rehab costs ten to twenty grand. Most addicts do not have that, and neither do their families. We need affordable options for these people. It is sad to see so may people just getting sicker and sicker. Of course when I was there, I did not think I was sick.
Maybe I just did not belong there. And eventually, my consequences caught up with me...and eventually things changed. I was lost for seven years in a world I did not belong in. I barely made it out alive. I never had an expensive rehab, I went to jail. And because I did not belong there, but I did what landed me there. I did not go to rehab, but I lost my marriage and everything I knew and loved. Eventually, I did not want to be there anymore. I was done...I just wish more people had the chance to get help.
Then, I remind myself that an addict does not get better until he or she is ready to. I only got better when I was ready. It had to be on my time table. I wish it had been on other's time table because I would not have lost so much...I would not be so far behind. But, that is not the way it works. As an addict, you have to be ready...and then, the process really begins.

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