Four Corners deals with complexities of drug abuse
Like trying to combat an infectious organism that mutates constantly, the substance abuse professionals who battle drug addiction must regularly evaluate their methods, endlessly searching for the best way to fight a disease that as yet does not have a cure.
In the last of portion of a seven-part report on drug abuse in Carbon County, the Sun Advocate sat down with the Substance Abuse Administrator at Four Corners Community Behavioral Health to discuss the ongoing changes they have made to combat an ever evolving problem.
In Utah's Castle Country, the treatment offered at Four Corners represents the bulk of substance abuse and mental health resources available in the community. In one modest office, a handful of counselors see more than 550 clients per month. That number is evenly split between those with substance abuse and mental health issues. According to Four Corners Administrator Melissa Huntington, many of those seeking treatment face both mental health and substance abuse issues, making treatment incredibly complex.
According to Huntington, many of the drug related deaths which have occurred recently happen for two reasons. In one instance, a drug addict is sent to jail and subsequently forced to detox. When they return to the street and use, their tolerance has dropped away much more quickly than they expected, and what was a regular dose has now become lethal.
Secondly, if an opiate abuser can't find or can't afford the type of pill they are used to, they may turn to heroin, which has become easily available in Carbon County, according to both law enforcement and substance abuse treatment professionals. Heroin is extremely dangerous because it can be many times more potent than pharmaceutical opiates and there is no real way to gauge the strength of a given dose.
Several opiate addicts interviewed during the Sun Advocate's initial five part series in December explained that even in a given "batch" of heroin, concentration can differ from bag to bag, meaning that every use is a threat to one's life. This unknown coupled with intravenous and poly-substance abuse creates a cocktail which constantly threatens the life of a user.
To combat the epidemic facing our community, Huntington, who has been with the Price clinic since 2009, stated that "addiction is individual so we have tailored our programs to reflect that. The treatment must be as unique as the people we are serving."
The Price clinic has been recognized and applauded by the state's treatment community for the past two years, with Huntington presenting to all of Utah's substance abuse professionals at their annual fall conference. Those presentations have focused on how the Four Corners staff have developed the most individualized treatment program in the state.
"We have had so many facilities contact us and ask about things like our recovery coach or how we have incorporated an outreach specialist into our program," explained Huntington. "We are doing some great new things and we are proud of what we are doing."
According to the Four Corner's administrator, getting an individual to "buy in" and engage with their counselor is one of the most difficult problems faced by substance abuse professionals, especially in the beginning phases of recovery.
To face this, Four Corners has instituted a preliminary phase to their Intensive Outpatient Program.
"We are getting people clean and getting their brain functioning before we start putting them into a lot of intensive services," said Huntington. "A person straight from the jail, who hasn't worked in years and doesn't know where they are going to spend the night isn't ready for treatment. This is why an individualized program is so important."
For those who aren't ready to enter directly into intensive treatment, Four Corners helps with other services, focusing on their triggers and keeping them clean while working to get them into a housing or vocational program as well.
"What we have found is that we were putting people into intensive services and they weren't ready," she said. "And what we got were a bunch of zombies. They can't focus, they're hungry, most of the time they're looking for a couch to surf on. Basically, they're still going through detox, and we're wondering why they're dropping out of treatment."
This major change in treatment was only possible because the staff at Four Corner's bought in, said Huntington.
The program at Four Corners starts much like it did before with an assessment, what has changed is the fact that individuals no longer have to wait for an appointment. The clinic now offers open access. Every Friday between 12 p.m. at 4 p.m. those seeking addiction can come in and start their paperwork. From there, clients are processed for intake and set up for orientation and services.
The recovery coach then takes the client and monitors their treatment from the time they enter recovery until they have completed the program and even into their aftercare. The institution of a coach was one of the first changes implemented in Four Corner's recovery program and it has made a world of difference, said Huntington.
Four Corners is also listening to their clients' opinion much more about the type of treatment they feel is needed, further individualizing the program. Additionally, all those involved with a given person's recovery spend a great deal more time staffing the clients and discussing just where they are in their treatment. This holistic approach to recovery allows clients to become empowered by their own success and have an easier time making decisions once the support system of intensive treatment has run its course.
The specific changes which Four Corners has made to their treatment program are too vast to recount here and continue to evolve as the disease they battle does. What is important to report, according to Huntington, is just how individual the program has become.
Huntington explained that even though treatment statistics have improved over the past couple of years, the stigma which is attached to substance abuse is still alive and well. According to the substance abuse professional, the thinking which tells people that substance abuse is a moral weakness is alive and well despite all the evidence to the contrary.
"Most people who are recovering from addiction are funny and they're intelligent and most in the community don't get to see that," said Huntington. "I feel so privileged that I get to know some of these people on a level that even their family doesn't get to see because of honesty that comes out in this program."