Methadone Clinic Helps Addicts Get Lives Back
Christy used to take her kids with her every day to McDonald's.
While they enjoyed Happy Meals and played, Christy, whose last name The Pilot agreed to withhold, would meet her drug dealer and buy as much as $150 worth of illegally obtained prescription pain pills.
"When you're in addiction," she says, "you don't realize you're hurting everyone around you. I thought I was being a good mom."
Christy is now a patient at the Carolina Treatment Center in Pinehurst. She formed an addiction to pain pills after a 2003 car accident. Her life was consumed with finding pills, she said. She finally decided that enough was enough and sought help.
The Treatment Center is a methadone clinic. Methadone remains a controversial treatment after it was linked to several overdose deaths in Moore County in 2006.
Christy goes to the clinic every day for a dose and therapy. The treatment allowed her to re-enter life, she says.
"It makes you feel good," she says. "You can actually function and spend time with your family. You're not taking your kids to McDonald's because that's where you're getting your pills. ... There's so much more to life."
Most people have no idea that there is a popular methadone clinic in Pinehurst.
That's because the Carolina Treatment Center operates quietly, and its patients don't cause trouble.
In the three years that the center has been open in Pinehurst, police say they have had only one problem there and that was when a patient reached through a window in the waiting room and stole some pills.
The clinic is one of three operated by CRC Health Group in North Carolina. The others are in Fayetteville and Goldsboro. There are more than 30 methadone clinics in the state.
The Pinehurst clinic opened in July 2005. It is next to Pinehurst Neurology and shares a building with a dentist's office.
It serves about 140 patients a day. Most of them live in Moore County, and most are in their 20s. About 90 percent of the patients are white. The center won't take patients younger than 18. The oldest patient is over age 60. All are addicted to opiates.
'Legitimate Pain Issue'
Some of the patients are recovering heroin addicts, but the vast majority, like Christy, are addicted to prescription pain pills, Director Amy Garner said.
"A lot of our patients began with a legitimate pain issue," she said.
Even people who drive by the clinic every day may not notice it. It opens at 5 a.m. and closes at 10 a.m. Most of its patients are already served by the time most people head to work.
That's because most of those seeking methadone have to go to jobs themselves, Garner said.
"The people who come here are people everybody knows in the community," she said. "They're nurses, waiters, lawyers."
Next month is national Addiction Recovery Month. The clinic is planning for a balloon release, among other festivities.
The treatment patients receive is "a combination of 12 steps, a harm-reduction model and counseling as well," Garner said.
The ultimate goal is to get people completely off drugs and medication, though Garner admits that a person with a long history of heroin abuse will have a low chance of that ever happening.
The phrase "harm-reduction model" means a dose of either methadone once a day or Suboxone once every two days to kill the cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms. Suboxone is a new drug that is more effective at treating patients with a shorter addiction history, Garner said.
New patients first have to go through counseling and a medical assessment to determine the level of treatment they require. The Carolina Treatment Center provides outpatient treatment. Sometimes people come in, Garner said, who aren't ready for outpatient treatment and need rehabilitation first.
"Almost all of our patients are referred to us by other patients," she said.
During the first 90 days of treatment, a patient has to come every day, Garner said.
A sign in the lobby clearly reads: "Patients who come to the clinic smelling of alcohol or marijuana will be denied dosing." Patients have to pass random drug screens every month and can earn the right to get take-home medication for the weekends.
"This is a highly regulated program," Garner said. "Systems are in place to prevent anything being abused."
It is not replacing one drug with another, she said. Methadone allows people with the disease of addiction to have normal lives. It's like a person taking medication for high blood pressure or diabetes, she said.
"Addiction is a disease parallel to hypertension," she said.
Get Their Lives Back
The key is adding counseling to the treatment, she said, to allow people to understand why they have addictive tendencies. Many of the patients have sexual abuse in their past, she said. Almost all of them have something in their past driving them to self-medicate, she said. Treating that underlying problem is key.
"The medicine alone is going to do nothing," she said.
Christy says it got to the point where she was spending $100 to $150 a day on pills. Now she spends $10.25 a day on methadone. (Suboxone costs $18 every other day.)
"I'm saving $140 a day," she said. "I'll definitely pay $10.25, considering it saved my life."
The daily charge for Methadone and treatment is nothing compared to the cost of illegal drugs and the hidden costs -- the possibility of being arrested and the harm done to an addict's family, said center Supervisor Leon Jacobs.
Christy's family was additionally against her entering the program.
"At first, my family didn't understand," she said. "They thought it was just one thing for another."
Now, Christy's husband comes to meetings with her. She has suffered setbacks with drugs other than opiates, specifically marijuana, which she said she has also been addicted to.
The center tries to treat other drug addictions as well. Many of the patients also struggle with cocaine addiction, Garner said. It holds cocaine anonymous meetings.
Garner never expected to work at a Methadone clinic. She started in 1999 at the Fayetteville office and moved to Pinehurst when it opened in 2005.
"I was very naive and innocent," she said. "I needed a job. Now, I know this is where I'm supposed to be. I don't know what else I can do."
It can be both rewarding and sad, she said. Addicts get their lives back, but relapses happen.
"Sometimes it can be a really heartbreaking job," she said. "You get to really know them. But it's fantastic to see people, a person who feels like they are at the end of their road, and you're actually able to witness, see they're able to live and are not driven by seeking pills."
Contact Matthew Moriarty at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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