Drugs easy to get, nearly impossible to get out of addiction
Addicts, family members share their perspectives on the plague
The availability of heroin, methamphetamine and prescription narcotics have set up a situation that makes it easier for Carbon County's youth to score any one of these than it would be for them to get a pack of cigarettes. Similarly, the barriers set up by the social stigma of addiction takes adults with a medically recognized disease and makes them lifetime wards of the state.
"I sat in the jail the other day waiting for a meeting and happened to overhear that all 20 parents and family members waiting to visit their loved ones and children were there because of heroin," said Four Corners Community Behavioral Health Administrator Karen Dolan. "It started with a few parents discussing their children's problem and before you knew it the whole room was involved in the conversation. It was heart breaking."
Dolan, like many others in the Castle Country are fighting a problem that has state and national officials stumped.
In July, Salt Lake Police seized more than 90 pounds of "high grade" heroin and arrested 17 individuals. The bust was reported as "historic" as police seized an estimated six to 10 million dollars worth of drugs and property. Down the pipe in Carbon County, the effect was hardly noticed.
According to local users interviewed over the past four months, the bust did little to stifle the flow of narcotics making their way to Main Street in Price from the Wasatch Front.
One of the most difficult issues facing local treatment and law enforcement is that even if the illicit drugs were to slow down, the influx of pharmaceutical medications steps in to take it place. Many Castle Country physicians have limited the amount of pain medication they will prescribe, hoping to slow the local abuse of prescription meds. Their effort is blunted, however, as users simply wend their way over the mountain as they once did to purchase illegal drugs.
"There are at least 40 or 50 people I know going upstate to see the same type of doctors," said one opiate addict who takes between 240 and 300 milligrams of prescribed Oxycodone per day. "As long as the demand is here, the supply will find its way."
The residents who see these doctors do so for a number of reasons. Some use and trade the narcotics to sustain their own habit. Some, mostly elderly individuals on fixed incomes, sell the medications outright in order to survive or sustain the lifestyle they lived prior to retirement or the death of a spouse.
"You would be amazed to find out how many little old ladies are selling their script to make sure their grandkids get school clothes," said the same addict. "It's sad because you can tell they're good people and they end up dealing with some really shady characters and even worse, when the junkie gets popped, he's more than ready to give granny to the cops."
According to the approximately 15 daily drug users interviewed by the Sun Advocate for these articles, drug use of all types has increased or remained the same concerning every type of substance available. Some of those interviewed have been using since the 1960s.
And while the community continues to struggle, searching for a reasonable solution to a Goliath-sized problem, people are suffering and dying.
"Opiate overdoses have increased in the state of Utah by 400 percent," said Dolan of Four Corners, a non-profit outpatient treatment facility which operates in Eastern Utah. Showing that Carbon County is not unique in terms of increasing death due to drugs.
The increase in mortality comes at the medical and treatment professions from more than just one angle as well. Once opiates are teamed with methamphetamine or pharmaceuticals like Adderall and Ritalin, everyday use is a recipe for an obituary. And most treatment professionals agree that at least half of their patients use multiple substances daily.
"What bothers me is the stigma that people associate with drug addicts, especially those addicted to opiates," said Dolan. "People have a predisposition to addiction. It's an illness and has been known as such for some time and yet people continue to view it as a moral weakness."
The prejudice Dolan speaks of is only one obstacle in a labyrinth that makes it nearly impossible for most addicts to break away from the cycle that is killing them.
A story told by a family member of a now-deceased county resident goes like this:
A young man ruptures his spleen at the age of 13. He is hospitalized for a month and is away from school for two. He is given morphine and Percocet the entire time. One day he forgets to take his morning ration of medication and gets incredibly ill. His mind connects the sickness he feels with his lack of medication. His addiction is born. He begins abusing the pills and does so all through high school. He never attends college and is caught doctor shopping and forging prescriptions when he is 19. He pleads the charges down but is still convicted as a felon. No jail time, no treatment, just a felony record and probation.
The felony record ensures that he cannot find work that would pay a living wage. The probation ensures that he eventually sees jail and then prison time. He gets treatment at the Utah State Prison but fails to stay clean once getting out. He never works again, spirals downward and is dead by the age of 25.
While the beginning of this cycle can be attributed to the predisposition which Dolan spoke of, the lack of any detox or inpatient facility in Carbon County leaves many without a glimmer of hope for treatment. That is, unless the addict's family can afford a three to four hundred dollar-a-day private-pay inpatient facility.
Dolan explained that legislative funding for small, affordable inpatient facilities is being cut at both the state and federal levels. The Serenity House in Ogden, which was the main treatment center used by Four Corners for inpatient treatment, has closed its doors due to such cuts. All taxpayers then pay the cost of addiction in the form of increased crime incarceration costs.
Future articles will explore the barriers to detox and inpatient facilities, speak with doctors trying revolutionary treatments, and hear from a large group of those who still abuse despite the cost.