Recovering addict opens up about benefits of new treatment program

Recovering addict opens up about benefits of new treatment program
(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Just as the Arizona Legislature approved a proposal designed to crack down on opioids and cut the number of overdose deaths, a new program in southern Arizona is tackling the epidemic head on - at all hours of the day and night.

Those in recovery are raving about the benefits, having staff at CODAC available when those in withdrawal are feeling helpless and alone.

It's needed now more than ever for people like Jack Meyer.

"It's very personable, they know who I am. The doctor and I have a good relationship," he said, as he walked through the halls of the new offices.

This is a routine with which Meyer has become familiar, coming to CODAC's treatment center for his physical and mental health check-in. Once a month, he walks right up to the window to refill his treatment medication.

Knowing where he was three years ago, trying to withdraw on his own from his addiction was nearly an impossible task.

"That's why a lot of people don't want to get clean, because they don't want to have to experience the withdrawal symptoms," he said. "You can't get up to go to the bathroom. You can't walk. It's the kicks, your skin's crawling, you don't eat, and you can't sleep for anymore than five minutes at a time. It's painful, it's long-lasting, and the worst part is it's excruciating on your mind."

You can trace his pill problems back to 2009 with recreational prescription drug use.

He is not alone in this epidemic, as explained by Steve Lee, CODAC's Director of Addiction Services.

"I think system-wise, it's been encouraged to treat the pain," Lee said, talking about some doctors being accused of over-prescribing. "What's happening as a consequence is people are turning to the streets."

When an addict's access runs thin they turn to a cheaper and easier option like heroin, according to Lee.

Out on those streets it took seeing his mother's face, as she was present for his latest arrest, for Meyer to realize it was time to make a change.

"Disappointment," he said, talking about the emotions she showed witnessing him getting cuffed and thrown in jail. "She was desperate. She was just as vulnerable as I was."

On the road to recovery, Meyer never had this kind of access.

Started in the new year, opened Jan. 1, 2018, thanks to a federal grant CODAC now has the 24-hours, 7-days-a-week care and resources at their office at 380 E. Fort Lowell Road.

CODAC staff said the 24/7 Medication Assisted Addiction Treatment (MAAT) program is the first and only of its kind in southern Arizona.

"24/7 access. That's really the key here," Lee said. "In addition, we've had problems with discharge - hospitals wanting to discharge someone to a certain clinic and they never show up at the clinic."

Staff at CODAC are able to pick up that individual, any time of day, and bring them to the clinic.

The MAAT program will also provide assistance with withdrawal symptoms and detox, stabilization, and medication replacement and maintenance via methadone, suboxone and vivitrol. Treatment also includes peer support, individual, family and group therapy, employment support, and connection with resources such as food and housing.

"Many opioid addiction treatment centers are only open during business hours. This is a barrier to individuals being able to reach out for help when they need it most and are most likely to ask: during withdrawal (which can happen at any time of day). By being open 24/7, individuals can come in for help at any time," CODAC's spokeswoman Kristine Welter Hall said in an email to Tucson News Now.

It also comes with outpatient accountability. In the voluntary program, staff will test blood and urine to make sure the recovering addicts stick to the plan.

It's available at all hours of the day and night, when Meyer needed it the most.

"I wasn't sleeping and I was thinking about it all night. It's disheartening," he said. "You want help but you're scared to reach out for it. You don't know where to go. There's so much on your mind as far as all the symptoms you're feeling that you don't really think about anything but the withdrawal and staying alive. It feels like you're going to die."

He and others now have a place to go to get counseling and the necessary withdrawal medication in a controlled environment.

Yet, like the doors being always open, the program is also open to criticism. Meyer knows that the alternative is a whole lot worse.

"There are people that will say you're just substituting one drug for another. But I don't see it as that case at all," he said. "Heroin addiction is a disease. If you would say to someone that had heart disease, and they're taking their medicine, that you're just taking that medicine to substitute for your heart disease that wouldn't make any sense. Or a cancer patient getting chemo. It's a disease. I'm treating my disease with the medicine that's prescribed to me and it's changed my life."

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