Despite her experience as executive director of the community-based criminal justice program PACT, Sharon Mortensen had a tough time figuring out where to turn when she discovered her 13-year-old son had a drug problem.
She quickly learned there are not a lot of resources in the area, particularly for someone, like her son, who needed more than outpatient counseling.
It was not until she followed up on a tip to hire what is known as an interventionist that Mortensen finally was directed to drug rehabilitation centers outside the area, and her son began receiving the help he needed.
Her son is now 21, living in Florida and has close to a year of sobriety, which is the longest time he has been able to steer clear of his lengthy list of preferred substances including marijuana, synthetic marijuana, prescription drugs, cocaine and heroin.
"He used whatever was available," Mortensen said.
Mortensen is not alone in discovering a shortage of treatment options across the region, especially for young people.
"For adults, there are definitely a lot more resources available," said Amanda Morrison, coordinator of the Lake County Substance Abuse Council.
There are just two residential facilities for young people in Northwest Indiana with a limited number of beds -- Campagna Academy in Schererville and The St. Francis Center of Franciscan St. Margaret Health in Dyer, she said.
Most of the beds in these two facilities are reportedly filled by court order, which further shrinks the opportunities available to parents seeking help locally.
Gwendolyn Horton, an adult and juvenile counselor at Franciscan, said area residents have to travel south in Indiana or into Illinois to find the next-nearest residential facilities for young people.
Beth Szamatowicz, director of public relations and volunteer services at Campagna, said their residential program draws young people from all across the state and includes an intensive substance abuse program that meets three hours, three times a week for either 16 or 24 sessions.
Beatrice Owen, who serves as director of the Porter County Substance Abuse Council, said the area is also lacking a detox facility where young people can go to safely wean off the drugs.
"It's an issue of finances," she said of the overall lack of treatment options for young people. "Who is going to pay for the services?"
'Treatment gap' keeps youth addicted
There is a "treatment gap" across the nation, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
"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," according to the federal agency.
The region offers a variety of lower-level treatment options, which Owen described as individual and group counseling. There are also various 12-step meetings, though Owen voiced concern about the potential negative impact of having young people attend meetings with adults.
Mortensen said outpatient treatment was not enough for her son, and she regrets not sending him to an inpatient facility before he turned 18.
Her son completed five rounds of inpatient treatment over a period of two years. She said she was fortunate the treatment was covered by insurance, considering it costs about $25,000 for the 30 days.
"I can never bring him back," she said of the decision for her son to remain in Florida, which is the site of his last treatment program. "When they come back, the only friends they have are drug friends."
Owen said the good news is that reforms brought about as part of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, provides more far-reaching health insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment.
"It's going to be interesting to see how it manifests itself," she said.
Mortensen suggests that families seeking help begin by having an assessment done of their child to determine what level and type of help is needed.
She also stresses not letting shame stand in the way of talking to others to seek their support and knowledge. PACT recently created a support center to provide this type of help, she said.
Similar offerings are available at Empower Porter County, as well as the substance abuse councils in Lake and Porter counties.
"Don't hide it," Mortensen said.