Access to therapy beds presents problems for recovering addicts - WFSB 3 Connecticut

I-Team Investigation

Access to therapy beds presents problems for recovering addicts

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(WFSB file photo) (WFSB file photo)
WILLIMANTIC, CT (WFSB) -

An I-Team investigation has revealed a new wrinkle in the heroin overdoes epidemic, patients are now outnumbering the number of detox beds.

Thousands of heroin addicts can be overwhelmed in what can appear to be a never ending battle.

Doug and Christie are both recovering addicts living in Willimantic. They have been struggling with the drug for years and staying clean has not been easy.

"A walk across the street. That's all it take," explained Doug, a recovering addict.

After multiple overdoses, job loss, even living on the street, they have experienced the lowest of the lows and decided to change their lives.

"I just did not want that lifestyle," said Doug.

Willpower may be the first step but when wrestling with such a highly addictive drug, willpower will not cut it alone.

Connecticut offers rehabs, in-patient detox, methadone clinics and more to help on the path to recovery.

This couple has tried all these forms of therapy, but they claim they ran into roadblocks when going the in-patient route.

"There is a waiting period sometimes where they cannnot get you in because the beds are full. That's happened," said Christie, a recovering addict.

In their case, the couple said the wait was a week but felt like a lifetime due to withdrawals.

"Every muscle in your body aches. You feel like it is the worst flu you have ever had," explained Doug.

During the waiting, Christie went back to prison. "I was stuck using longer because I was waiting for a bed. I could have overdosed."

With many clamoring for help, the State Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is faced with the tough task of meeting these growing needs while doing it on a shrinking budget.

The department had to lay off 68 workers last year, including cutting a team that worked with those struggling with substance problems.

Through it all, officials said treatment beds are readily available for now.

"More often than not, we have availability on any given day," said Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health.

According to Delphin-Rittmon, the state has 1,251 beds statewide including in-patient services and residential halfway houses.

New Jersey, a state similar in size to Connecticut, has more than 3,000 beds. Iowa is similar in population to our state and only has 602 beds.

Despite the beds, recovering addicts said it's a long road to recovery.

"You have to have insurance or else it will cost hundreds of dollars. Nobody who is using, unless you have a rich family, will be able to pay out of pocket to stay in one of these places," said Doug.

There is a strong push to get patients in the direction of Methadone. It is an opioid, but one that is used as a detox drug.

"You do not get high like you do on heroin, but it makes it so you can function. You do not have the aches, the pains. Certainly the literature suggests medication assisted treatment probably is one of the best options," explained commissioner Delphin-Rittmon.

The state has 25 Methadone clinics. "It allows people to be treated in their natural settings. They are not separated from family and friends and daily rhythm."

All it takes is insurance, and it does not isolate patients or confine them to a home or hospital.

"Methadone saved my life. I probably would have died if it was not for Methadone. It kept me clean for years and years," said Doug.

Methadone not the cure though. Doug and Christie go to the clinic daily to fight off the sick feelings of withdrawals and the nagging anxiety that comes with addiction.

She holds down a steady job and has remained clean. She and Doug believe daily trips to drink a small cup of Methadone will forever be part of her life.

"If I want to stay clean completely and I want to stay away from trouble and out of jail, this is probably going to be the route I have to take."

"Three things are going to happen. Jail, institution or death and they say that for a reason. I think the help out there is very important. If that help was not out there now, I think a lot of people would be overdosing or dying," explained Christie.

The state is also trying to get help in the home by making access to Narcan easily accessible and offering training on how to use it.

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