It all started very innocently. She was 21 years old and just delivered her second child. After a particularly rough, natural birth, her doctor sent her home with a prescription for Vicodin. And so started a seven-year addiction to prescription painkillers that eventually led her to seek treatment at a local addiction treatment center.
“I never thought I would be here,” said the woman, who chose to remain anonymous. “I have been in treatment for more than a year, standing in line for a methadone treatment to kick this nasty habit,” she explained.
“I am a mother of two, I have a job, and we have a nice house in a decent neighborhood. I always thought that addicts were people I could spot a mile away — that anyone could — but now I look at my neighbors in my nice neighborhood and wonder if they too are addicts.”
“Most people think that methadone is for treating hard-core heroin addicts," said Lori Fuentes, program director at the Northwest Indiana Treatment Center (owned by the Riverwood Group), "but it actually helps us treat people with addictions to opiates, including painkillers, which is quickly becoming one of the largest problems nationwide and in our region.
"The majority of our patients are 25-39 years old and are addicted to opiates. And unlike what people may think, the problem is widespread across all of Northwest Indiana and affects people at all income levels.”
Most of the treatment center’s current patients in the outpatient treatment facility at 8500 Broadway in Merrillville come from south Lake County, she said.
Painkillers — most of which contain opiates — are the second most widely abused drugs of dependence.
The top drugs of dependence/abuse among Americans in 2012 were marijuana at 4.3 million, pain relievers at 2.1 million and cocaine at 1.1 million, according to the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“Many of our patients started out with a physical injury or illness that their doctors prescribed them painkillers to treat,” Fuentes said. “They then became addicted to those painkillers and some of them even traded that addiction for other, less expensive street opiate-based drugs, such as heroin. When you have a long-term addiction, cost is a major factor.”
And the cost of that abuse is high, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an organization that supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction.
Abuse of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs is costing our nation more than $600 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work, productivity and health care. However, NIDA reports that there continues to be a large treatment gap in this country. In 2012, an estimated 23.1 million Americans (8.9 percent) needed treatment for a problem related to drugs or alcohol, but only about 2.5 million people (1 percent) received treatment at a specialty facility.
“Methadone treatment is 100 percent voluntary,” said Victoria Charleston, director of addiction at Edgewater Systems at The Turning Point building, which is the organization’s addiction services center, at 1110 W. 5th Ave. in Gary. “Addiction is a disease, like diabetes, and once that disease takes over, you need help to recover.
“You can’t force someone into treatment, at least not if you want them to be successful. They have to be willing and open to receive help. We are to help but the person has to be willing to receive the help and do the work,” added Charleston, who celebrates 19 years as a recovering addict herself.
Upon recovering from her addiction, Charleston made it her life’s work to help treat others. She earned a master’s degree in clinical addiction counseling, as well as several certifications specific to addiction treatment, and speaks to groups around the region and country about addiction and recovery.
The intake process at facilities such as Edgewater and the Northwest Indiana Treatment Center starts with a complete history — a process known as a bio/psycho/social — that takes into account the person’s medical, social and family dynamics.
“We take a holistic approach to treatment,” Charleston said. “Successful recovery, which often takes several years to achieve, requires addressing all of the issues that led to the addiction.”
The intake process also includes a drug screen, visits with physicians and psychiatrists on staff, and therapy sessions to address issues that contribute to the disease. Treatment averages $11 to $12 per day/session paid directly to the facility. Patients with insurance that covers addiction services submit expenses for reimbursement. Currently, Medicaid does not cover Methadone treatment.