In a very upbeat and positive story about the good that the Delray Beach treatment industry can cause, Brittany Horn from the Delaware News Journal (and as picked up by USA Today) writes a long feature article entitled “Some struggling with heroin leave Delaware to get help.”
The story is from the perspective of a community with high demand of treatment but few options. And a parent’s struggle to find help for their adult child.
A few cuts from the article are below, but here is our takeaway: If Delray Beach and South Florida is going to be coined the “Treatment Capital of the United States,” then we have the responsibility as well as the opportunity to be a Center of Excellence on addiction care, research, public health policy, and funding. Those who would argue otherwise are not only short-sighted, but also tilting at windmills.
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Marc Blum couldn’t get treatment for his heroin addiction in Delaware, so he violated probation and flew to Florida.
Now, the act that Blum insists saved his life has him facing up to three years in prison for misdemeanor crimes of theft, criminal trespassing and using a credit card unlawfully. He’s clean now, living in a halfway house in Delray Beach. But Blum knows that something as simple as a traffic stop could send him back to a Delaware prison.
Marc’s mother, Karen Blum, hasn’t seen her 24-year-old son since he put himself on a plane 18 months ago. Because of the lack of treatment centers here, she knows Marc would have never beaten his disease had he stayed in Delaware.
“I can hear a difference in him today. But I can tell you, he was not going to get what he got in Florida,” she says. “My son would have died here. I’m convinced of that.”
The Blums are among hundreds of Delaware families frustrated with an antiquated addiction treatment system that Rita Landgraf, secretary of Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services, says lacks the individualized care necessary to treat addiction and prevent relapse.
“We should be supportive of this disease based on what we know from watching it for decades and the probability of remission,” Landgraf says. “You don’t treat it with punitive measures. We don’t do that for any other disease so why are we doing it with this one?”
For years, people with addiction have been treated as criminals in the medical and law enforcement communities. It is only recently that officials have acknowledged addiction and treated it as the disease it is.
Dr. Richard Saitz, a professor at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, says the biological components behind addiction, often coupled with underlying mental health disorders, are proof that the notion of people “choosing” to use drugs is outdated and stigmatizing.
“No one would choose addiction,” he says. “Even if the first use is a choice, repeated use leads to brain changes that reduce the capacity to stop … which ultimately shows that it’s not a choice.”
More leaders like Landgraf are talking about the disease in terms similar to cancer and diabetes. Remission and relapse are now an active part of the conversation when determining best approaches to addiction treatment and aftercare. Those with addiction have a 90 percent relapse rate, Landgraf says.
“When people are relapsing with cancer, the medical community wraps themselves around them,” she adds. “In addiction, we go, ‘Bye-bye. You didn’t meet your program, shame on you.’ And in reality, we should be doing just the opposite.”
Many who have gotten clean in Delaware say that recovery requires a combination of treatment, after-care and community support.
“Twelve steps changed my life,” Goldner says. “I wanted to die, but the steps showed me how to find a higher power, and I just wasn’t hopeless anymore.”
Delaware’s network has been unable to keep up with the number of addicts, Landgraf says, but DHSS is working to change that. The state increased the number of residential treatment beds from 78 to 95 in the 2016 fiscal year, which cost the state an additional $800,000.
Getting more residential treatment facilities is a struggle, says Dave Humes, an advocate and board member of atTAcK addiction, a grassroots organization fighting opiate use. Too many Delawareans are forced to leave the state for treatment, he says.
“We can send people away [out of state], but unfortunately, we’re sending them all away,” Humes says. “We need to try to attract some of these big treatment facilities.”
The standard of care is substandard across the country, but in Delaware it is especially so, experts say. Many places don’t offer medication-assisted treatment like Methadone or naltrexone, despite research that proves the drugs effective.
While the state spent $12.54 million on addiction and mental health treatment, it’s not enough to keep up with cascading needs. Landgraf hopes to get another $1 million for the next fiscal year.
Humes, who lost a child to addiction, says the state needs to seek federal funds now available after President Barack Obama’s late March announcement, in which the president called addiction a public health crisis.
“It doesn’t do us much good to talk about recovery after folks are dead,” Obama said. “And if we can save a life when they are in medical crisis, then we now are in a position to make sure that they can also recover so long as the treatment programs are available.”
“The addict today is everybody’s kid,” Blum says. “I have daydreamed about writing his obituary. No parent should have to do that.”
Marc Blum remembers how it felt to shoot up heroin for the first time. After years of pills, he craved a stronger high, even if it involved a needle.
“It was kind of like the moment that I had been waiting for,” Blum says. “My whole life, I’m trying to get out of myself either by being the class clown or getting into trouble, having crazy stories of being in jail to tell people, just being ‘the man.’ This took all that away and just worked. I could be myself, but I needed this drug to be myself.”
Recovery has proved to him that version of himself is not who he wants to be.
“Walking through the fire was the answer for him,” Karen says. “He’ll end up back in Delaware at some point, and if they want to punish him, he’ll face that.”
Heroin – and its cravings – will forever be a part of Marc’s life. He only hopes that in lifting the stigma around addiction and educating people on just how prevalent and difficult addiction is, Delaware may view this issue differently.
“When I made the final decision to get sober and change my life, you have to take a look at it and own everything that you did that was wrong,” he says. “It’s part of the steps. It’s part of making amends. You kind of go back and try to right everything you did that was wrong.”