Searching for Help to Beat Pain or Addiction
CLEVELAND – They sit in a therapy session, talking quietly at times, wiping back tears at others.
The group leader encourages them saying, “this is tough stuff.”
Participants in the program battle chronic pain; about half of them also deal with an addiction issue – either to heroin or, more likely, to opiates – the prescription painkillers that are heroin’s legal cousins.
These people are part of an intensive, multi-discipline, outpatient program at the Cleveland Clinic.
They are trying to beat the odds – odds that are stacked way against them.
Why? Because of one of the most sobering statistics you will hear in the fight against heroin or opiate addiction.
How many people can be an addiction without help?
“Thirty percent of people who’ve been addicted to nicotine will eventually get free of it – and stay free of it,” says Dr. Ed Covington, who heads the Clinic’s Neurological Center for Pain, “and about four percent will beat heroin.”
Yet, this program’s graduates report back a 75 percent success rate at beating the addiction.
Dr. Covington is the first to say the numbers may be skewed, because people who aren’t doing well may not report back.
“Even at worse,” he says, “the numbers are going to be dramatically better than what is typically seen with recreational addiction to heroin.”
Dr. Covington says the credit goes to both the participants and their families.
He says those involved want to beat their issues, and have family support in doing so.
But Dr. Covington is also quick to say that the medical community has worsened the problem because it has not understood the addictive power of opiates.
He says, a generation ago, doctors were told at national medical meetings “it was our own cowardice” if their patients were in pain, simply because the doctors wouldn’t prescribe enough opiates.
At the time, research indicated people were less likely to get addicted to opiates taking for pain, as opposed to taking street heroin taken for fun. That has turned out to be dead wrong.
Dr. Covington says bluntly, “we’ve been fed a pack of lies.”
The Clinic’s program has had remarkable success, but almost everyone who is in it has insurance because the cost can easily exceed $20,000.
Those without insurance who want help sometimes resort to drastic measures to get it.
“I moved into a homeless shelter in Cuyahoga County,” says Jeremy Taugner, whose from Ravenna in Portage County.
“Because I was a resident of the county, I qualified for treatment,” he says.
Taugner had committed a drug-related misdemeanor in Portage County, and told the judge he wanted help.
But the judge said he was only allowed to send him to treatment if he had committed a felony.
So Taugner changed counties, and moved into a homeless shelter.
Now clean, that experience prompted him to help found “CARE” – a treatment center that now offers men in Portage County a place to go for help (the county already had a place for women.) CLICK HERE for more on this organization.
His co-founder is Valerie Root, who lost her son Damien to an overdose a few years ago.
“People are dying out here,” Valerie says, “these are lives we are losing. And it’s not just junkies on the streets under the bridges of New York. It’s everywhere.”
Valerie and Jeremy found an ally in Joel Mowery, who runs the county health board and found them the money to open the treatment center.
“If these problems could be treated in the community,” Mowery says, “the crime rate would go down.”
That’s because addicts often steal to pay for the addictions.
With overdoses now killing more than 1,700 people a year in Ohio (more than car wrecks), more treatment centers are needed like the one Valerie helped establish in memory of her son.
“I talk to him all the time,” she says quietly, “and I hope he’s proud of me.
*Watch more of Bill’s interview with Jeremy, below*
**Thursday on FOX 8 News at 6 p.m., Bill Sheil goes searching for some answers to the epidemic: from second chances in drug court to newer, tighter restrictions on doctors dispensing opiates for pain, including guidelines now followed by all doctors at University Hospitals.
For more on this week’s series, click here.