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Drug Abuse Treatment Programs, Expertise Are Plentiful on South Coast

Fellowship Story Showcase

Drug Abuse Treatment Programs, Expertise Are Plentiful on South Coast

Picture of Bill Macfadyen

This article was written by Noozhawk Staff Writer Lara Cooper as part of Day 9 in Noozhawk's 12-day, six-week special investigative series. Related links are below.

The Noozhawk's Prescription for Abuse series is a special project exploring the misuse and abuse of prescription medications in Santa Barbara County. Our series is a result of an exciting and unique partnership with USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which awarded Noozhawk a California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship to undertake this important work.

Through our reporting and presentation, we will establish an independent baseline of where our community is with respect to the misuse and abuse of prescription medications; how the problem is affecting health care, education, law enforcement, criminal justice, addiction and treatment, and our culture and society; what we as a community can do to educate ourselves about prevention and controls; and how we can perhaps reverse what appears to be a very troubling trend.

Noozhawk staff writers Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli are the lead reporters on the project, and they've been assisted by managing editor Michelle Nelson; reporters Alex Kacik and Sonia Fernandez; interns Kristin Crosier, Jessica Ferguson, Tim Fucci, Kristen Gowdy, Jessica Haro, Daniel Langhorne, Alexa Shapiro, Sam Skopp, Erin Stone and Sarah Webb; photographers Garrett Geyer and Nick St.Oegger; content producer Cliff Redding; and Web development staffers Will Macfadyen and Edgar Oliveira.

Ashley Almada, Garrett Geyer, Hailey Sestak and Billy Spencer of the Santa Barbara Teen News Network filmed more than two dozen public-service videos featuring many of our story sources.

The project is sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation in partnership with KEYT, sbTNN and Zona Seca. The Annenberg School is assisted by the Renaissance Journalism Center at San Francisco State University.


Day One:

» Quiet Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse Taking a Toll on Santa Barbara County

» After Losing It All, Former Drug Addict Looking Forward to Renewed Life

» USC, California Endowment Unite to Support Health Journalism at the Source

» Bill Macfadyen: Prescription for Abuse Project Is a Series of Opportunities

Day Two:

» Local, National Statistics Reveal Alarming Jumps in Misuse and Abuse of Medications

» Marijuana Use Trends Higher, Especially Among Young Adults, Sparking Public Health Concerns

» Alcohol Plays a Role All Its Own in Setting the Stage for Local Abuse, Overdoses

Day Three:

» Understanding Addiction Key to Dealing With Prescription Drug Abuse

» Donna Genera Has Seen the Price and Perils of Drug Addiction from All Sides

» Rich Detty Bears Burden of Not Knowing Extent of Dead Son's Drug Use

Day Four:

» Escalation of Drug Overdose Deaths Includes Increased Presence of Prescription Medications

» Santa Barbara Teen News Network Adds Another Dimension to Prescription Drug Abuse Series

» Dr. Chris Lambert Sounds Warning on Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol

Day Five:

» Local Oversight of Prescription Medications Is Far More Focused Than State, Federal Controls

» Elderly Are Particularly Vulnerable to Both Misuse and Abuse of Prescription Drugs

» Second-Generation Pharmacist Peter Caldwell Fills a Vital Role with Patient Health Care

Day Six:

» Early Education for Parents and Youth Emerges as Critical Tactic to Thwart Drug Use

» Student Highs Can Lead to Tragic Woes with Addiction's Hook Just One Fateful Step Away

» From an Early Age, Shereen Khatapoush Saw the Horrors of Substance Abuse

» As a Parent Herself, Prosecutor Von Nguyen Brings Empathy to Job in Juvenile Justice

Day Seven:

» Law Enforcement Fights Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse from Outside and Inside

» Sheriff Bill Brown a Strong Supporter of Re-Entry, Drug Abuse Treatment Efforts

» Speaking from Experience, Zona Seca's Kevin Smith Keeps Drug Abusers on Road to Recovery

Day Eight:

» Prescription Drug System Is Rife with Loopholes, Fraud and Lack of Oversight

» For Clinical Psychologist Neil Rocklin, Addiction Education Can't Begin Soon Enough

Day Nine:

» Drug Abuse Treatment Programs, Expertise Are Plentiful on South Coast

» Dr. David Agnew Sees Pain as Pathway to Abuse But Cautions Against Overreaction

Day Ten:

» Awareness, Disposal Key Elements to Reversing Tide of Prescription Drug Abuse

» Dr. Joe Blum Keeps Focus on His Veteran Patients Despite Health-Care System's Restraints

Day Eleven:

» Operation Medicine Cabinet Gets the Drop on Prescription Drug Disposal

» Lacey Johnson Gives UCSB Students an Education in Dealing with Drug Abuse and Addiction

Day Twelve:

» Santa Barbara County Officials Look for Solutions in Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse

» Noozhawk Journalists Recount Lessons Learned from Prescription Drug Abuse Series

» Annenberg Fellowships Take a Diverse Approach to Community Health Journalism

» Dr. Nancy Leffert Champions Antioch University's Role in Fight Against Substance Abuse

» Professionals Working in Addiction Field Often Share Roots at Antioch University Santa Barbara

Local inpatient and outpatient options include court-ordered treatment and long-range care
Sunday, October 9, 2011

For someone who has been addicted to prescription drugs for years, a way out may seem impossible. That’s what Lisa W. thought before entering treatment at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s Bethel House.

Lisa, who spoke with Noozhawk on the condition that her last name not be used, was addicted to opioid painkillers but recently graduated from the year-long treatment program. She has been sober since she started.

“I sit here right now with 11 months clean and sober, and last year at this point, I never would have been able to comprehend having this much time clean,” she told Noozhawk in August.

A host of treatment options exists locally, both of the inpatient and outpatient varieties, with addiction programs offered by Cottage Health System, the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse’s Project Recovery Treatment Center and the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission among them.

Many individuals are ordered into treatment by the courts after being arrested on drug charges. The Sheriff’s Treatment Program allows voluntary and court-mandated drug offenders to enter treatment while incarcerated.  But first- and second-time drug possession defendants convicted of nonviolent offenses must receive a probationary sentence in lieu of incarceration.  The voter-approved law, known as the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, says that the defendants are required to participate in and complete a licensed and/or certified community drug treatment program under the terms of their probation.

By 2006, however, initial funding for the program had run out, while the mandate remained. Now, Santa Barbara County and other jurisdictions are struggling to keep up with more and more people seeking treatment.

Pat O’Connor, assistant director of Project Recovery at 133 E. Haley St. in Santa Barbara, knows all about that demand.

“If we had the funding, we could offer more treatment,” he said.

Since the reduction in funds “it’s been tough and everybody’s lost, but we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere.”

Project Recovery works in conjunction with the court system. If an offender qualifies, a judge will require that treatment be pursued and, in some cases, will even dismiss the charges if the participant does well.

“There’s jail and then there’s us, and we’re just a little bit better,” O’Connor laughed. “When we start out, we have quite a few resistant clients.”

Nevertheless, O’Connor says that between 55 percent and 65 percent of people finish the Project Recovery program. Adults seeking outpatient treatment on their own are also welcome at the facility. Day and evening classes are offered, and the evening session includes a Spanish-only option. Click here for more information on Project Recovery, or call 805.564.6057.

People with private insurance may have more options available for addiction treatment, but they also may be challenged by insurance companies on what will actually be covered. The concept of “parity” becomes an important issue, and a 2008 law requires that benefits coverage for mental health and substance use treatments must be at least equal to coverage provided for physical health services. The law, known as the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, only applies to insurance groups with more than 50 employees.

Click here for more information on how to navigate insurance plans for treatment coverage. Click here for more information on insurance parity for substance abuse.

Detoxing from a drug is just the start of the treatment journey, according to Dr. Sherif El-Asyouty, co-founder of Recovery Road Medical Center. Once in a program, treatment approaches will vary by individual.

“The best programs provide a combination of therapies and other services to meet an individual patient’s needs,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Specific needs may relate to age, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, pregnancy, other drug use, comorbid conditions (e.g., depression, HIV), parenting, housing and employment, as well as physical and sexual abuse history.”

Each individual will vary in treatment needs. Ironically, drugs exist to help people become less dependent on opioids. This may seem counter-intuitive to the goal of being “clean” and drug-free in treatment.

“That’s a good goal,” said Dr. Joe Frawley, Recovery Road’s co-founder. “But you’re not going to get any rewards by being clean by itself. You’re going to get your rewards by being able to be there with your kids, being able to have a job, not being arrested, not being sick.”

Frawley said he’s seen success with drugs like Suboxone, a drug that binds the brain’s opiate receptors to control cravings. That allows the patient an opportunity to learn some coping skills. (Noozhawk’s note: Suboxone is manufactured by Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, a sponsor of Noozhawk’s Prescription for Abuse series.)

“When you’re on a short-acting opiate, you’re never really sure what your feelings are and what are the feelings of drug withdrawal,” he said. “It’s very hard to learn emotional control when you’re on a drug that, every four hours, you’re going up and down with withdrawals.”

Other drugs are used to help opioid-dependent people. Methadone is one such medication, and when used to treat addiction, it must come from a federally authorized clinic. Doctors can also prescribe the drug for pain; it has the same pain-killing power as OxyContin but is much cheaper.

Frawley said methadone has a long half-life, and remains in the body for about 30 hours.

“In one person it could last 25 hours, in other it could last 90 hours,” he said. “This creates some of the problems when you’re dosing methadone. Its pain-relieving properties last about four or five hours, but it stays in the system a long time.

“If you’re using it to manage pain, you can overdose because you are taking it for pain but you don’t realize that you’re building up. You’re not metabolizing everything that you’re taking.”

El-Asyouty said that while drugs like methadone have been life-savers for many patients, they often end up on the street and are used addictively. Because drugs like Suboxone are cheaper than heroin and OxyContin, “now people on the street have experience with it so they use it to avoid withdrawal,” he said.

“This is another medicine that is not used as a medicine,” he said. “It’s used as a drug to carry them until their next fix.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.