Five counties across the state are waiting for details after the state recently announced it would expand opioid treatment programs to their communities. Allen, Johnson, Monroe, Vigo and Tippecanoe counties are included in the state’s expansion.
The centers are expected to open within the next year and will offer medication-assisted treatment to help those struggling with opioid addiction. As part of the changes, Indiana’s Medicaid program will help pay for methadone treatment starting August 1.
But, that method of recovery remains controversial.
Medication-Assisted Treatment Only One Aspect Of Recovery
Ashley’s story might sound familiar to you.
“Before my eyes opened in the morning, that was the very first thing I worried about, was where am I going to get it?”
Ashley asked we only use her first name because she’s undergoing treatment for opioid addiction. She says the problems started when her dentist prescribed pain medication.
“I absolutely was obsessed with the feeling that it gave me,” she says. “Because it made me forget.”
So when Ashley found herself struggling with post-partum depression, she turned to opioids to numb her mind. She started using heroin more and more.
“I went to rehab three different times,” she says. “This was over the course of six years. And, after that I started realizing, thinking to myself that … I wasn’t good enough for any kind of treatment and I wasn’t going to be able to get help or anything. So, I started using a lot heavier and using things that don’t mix. And, I overdosed. I overdosed two different times.”
That’s when Ashley decided to come to the Southern Indiana Comprehensive Treatment Center. Ashley’s family told her her life depended on it.
“Here, this place has really saved my life,” she says.
Ashley drives from Austin, Ind. to the treatment center every day. It’s a state-approved opioid treatment center, which offers medication-assisted recovery. People coming here use medications including methadone and suboxone as part of their recovery.
“This place has really saved my life.”
“It helps to take care of, at least in the short time, some of the symptoms of the physiological disease of withdrawals and opioid addiction,” says Clinical Therapist Bill Zenor. “But, it’s only medication-assisted treatment. Which means medication is just a piece of the actual treatment itself.”
People also have to attend counseling sessions and can take classes to help prevent relapses.
Zenor says some of the roughly 1800 patients the center sees travel from as far away as central Kentucky for treatment. So he’s happy to hear the state is expanding opioid treatment centers to five more counties over the next year.
“This is great news because up to eight to ten years ago, a lot of people in the state, and in many states, if you did not live in an urban area, you did not have access to treatment,” he says.
But not everyone shares the same viewpoint.
Treatment Centers Spark Safety Concerns From Opponents
Lazondra and Pete Davis live just five minutes away from the Charlestown treatment center.
“I think they’re going from getting them hooked off of heroin and these other illegal drugs and they’re getting them hooked to a prescription drug, methadone,” Lazondra says. “I don’t see where that’s helping the problem.”
The Davises say they’ve seen more problems in their neighborhood as traffic at the nearby treatment center has increased over the years. There are more people walking down the street at odd hours. One time they found someone sleeping in their driveway. And, another time, someone trying to escape the police drove right through their yard. Their biggest concern is that other people’s safety is being put at risk.
“One of the signs that we have is our house is protected by the Second Amendment and fortunately my wife and son both know how to protect our home,” Pete says.
Monroe County Sheriff Brad Swain shares some of the same fears.
“The treatment centers are providing state-sanctioned highs, in a sense,” Swain says.
Monroe County is one of the five counties receiving an opioid treatment center as part of the state’s expansion. The state selected communities based on need. But Swain questions whether the new facility will do more good than harm.
“The treatment centers are providing state-sanctioned highs, in a sense.”
“I have a concern that this is going to be a regional office and we’re going to have people driving from other areas in their automobiles, driving while going through withdrawals potentially,” he says. “How many more people it’s going to attract here, and then the social problems that they’re going to bring with them.”
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton says there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the planned clinic, including where it will be located. He’s optimistic about its ability to help those struggling with opioid addiction, but does have some concerns.
“It’s got to be coordinated with our providers, our systems, our capacities,” he says. “And the fact that it was announced without any of that discussion means we’ve got to take a breath, take a pause, and let’s talk again from the beginning. ‘OK, what are you trying to do with this, state? What’s your goal?’”
Back in Charlestown, Zenor says he’s heard all of the criticisms before.
“It is a medication, it is a drug,” he says. “But, we have to look at what the result is. Is someone clean and sober? We have to look at the sober part. They are using a medication as a vehicle, as a tool to get to recovery and can be in recovery while taking medications.”
He says success stories like Ashley’s are proof the center is making a positive impact in the community.
“I just feel like I have more potential now,” Ashley says.