By John E. Carey
The Washington Times
December 27, 2007
Garber, Oklahoma — John and Mike wait a lonely vigil at the Oklahoma City airport just after midnight. They are there to meet a man they have never seen before. The man is addicted to physician prescribed medications and he is seeking help.
There is a crisis of addicts and alcoholics seeking help overwhelming America’s medical system and privately run treatment centers. Between October and January 1st, many alcoholics and drug addicts – people already on the perilous verge of self destruction even on the best days, start to come apart at the seams.
There is more than anecdotal evidence of this phenomena: one only need ask a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA); a member of the community of caregivers, physicians, nurses, counselors and advisors who perform the lonely, often desperate work; or one of the ministers and priest who preach the word of the “Higher Power” to these broken people.
Trying to provide alternatives to alcohol and drugs, especially during the holidays, means teaching detoxification, rehabilitation, hope, prayer and recovery.
Peter arrives in Oklahoma and is greeted by John and Mike. Peter’s face speaks loudly of his agony, fatalism and addiction. He looks like he has been tortured – and he has. He has lost his wife, his business is near collapse and his eight year old daughter urged him to quit. He is here for detoxification and recovery.
Alcohol and dugs are equal opportunity scourges. As a young congressional staff member, I remember Wilbur Mills, then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and one of the steepest falls from power in congressional history. Alcohol obviously impaired his judgment: and one of the most powerful men in Washington faced the scandal that involved a stripper with the stage name Fanne Foxe or “the Argentine Firecracker,” and an early morning romp in the tidal basin.
It was not a pretty sight – and it never is.
Michael is an alcoholic who suffers from diabetes who has been told by his doctors that he will be blind before long. At about the time of Mr. Mills’ troubles, Michael was practically a national hero. He held a world record in his athletic specialty and a gold medal from the Olympics. Today he suffers the agony of addiction and participates in daily AA meetings: sessions he calls his “lifeline.”
We came to Garber, Oklahoma, to see for ourselves one of the more respected, small and personal drug and alcohol treatment facilities. William (Bill) Alexander owns and manages The Manor House – a place of learning, solace, counseling and serenity for recovering addicts of all kinds.
“A drug is a drug, is a drug,” says Bill. “The addicted person doesn’t care much what substance he used once he makes a commitment to recovery. Once he or she makes the decision to admit that real help is needed and there is a strong desire to make the effort to recover, we provide him or her the tools to do so.”
“Drug use continues to be a serious public health crisis that affects every aspect of our society,” said Charles Curie of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “We must refuse to give up on people who have handed over their aspirations and their futures to drug use. People need to know help is available, treatment is effective and recovery is possible.”
Sara is not yet thirty years old. She attended nine high schools before her state declared her persona non grata. She had been repeatedly caught using and selling drugs in schools.“I have three felony convictions,” Sara told us. “Usually, when I talk to people, there isn’t even time to get into all the misdemeanors. I was thrown out of a “crack house” for bad behavior. I needed help and I came to Garber to get it. When you reach ‘rock bottom’ sometimes you fear death and pain so much that you have to decide: do I want to live or will I soon die? I chose to live.”
In the most recent SAMHSA survey of drug and alcohol treatment facilities, nearly 13,800 facilities participated, reporting more than 1.1 million clients in treatment. Facilities operated by private non-profit organizations made up the bulk of treatment facilities (59 percent). Private for-profit facilities made up 28 percent of these services in 2006, with the remaining facilities operated by local governments (7 percent), state governments (3 percent), the Federal government (2 percent) and tribal governments (1 percent).
The number of private for-profit facilities is growing each year. Many addicts, former addicts, and their families highly recommend the personal care, education and attention provided at these facilities. Some larger not for profit facilities we visited had four resident in one bedroom and classes of fifty or more addicts receiving recovery training.
At private facilities, the care is more personalized and tailored to the needs of the individual.
The “system” of treatment options is straining under the pressure of a growing number of addicts seeking recovery and sobriety. In a March 2006 survey of treatment facilities conducted by SAMHSA, ninety-one percent of all non-hospital residential beds and 90 percent of all hospital inpatient beds designated for substance abuse treatment were in use.
There are about 2 million Americans participating in AA meetings. The number of alcoholics and drug users not seeking treatment cannot be accurately measured but care givers put the number in the tens of millions. Most experts believe about ten percent of America’s population of 300 million has a serious drug or alcohol problem: that’s 30 million Americans.
This holiday season, treatment facilities and hospitals are at capacity. Trying to find hospital supervised detoxification in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas was next to impossible the week before Christmas. And this is not a regional problem. Shortages exist nation wide. We witnessed troubled addicts seeking help turned away and told to “make an appointment” for a later date: after the holidays or in the springtime.
Addicts in desperate need cannot keep some of those appointments because they die before the “system” can embrace them.
Despite all the blessings and wealth of American life, we still struggle to understand, provide treatment and hold out hope to a growing tidal wave of alcoholics and other addicts. The crisis is particularly explosive between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.
The holiday season is a good time to talk about addiction and treatment in America.
John E. Carey is a frequent contributor to The Washington Times, a former senior U.S. military officer and president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.