Editor’s Note: This article concludes a series produced by the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith. The entire series is available online at www.nlrtimes.com.
FORT SMITH — For prescription drug addicts seeking to cleanse themselves of the addiction or court-ordered to do so, treatment facilities are available locally.
Shirl Page, coordinator of the Sebastian County Drug Court, said facilities such as New Vision in Van Buren and Gateway House and Harbor House in Fort Smith help addicts to come off prescription drug addiction and get the counseling that will help them remain clean.
New Vision, located at Summit Medical Center, strictly handles the detox portion of coming off addiction, according to Karen Childers, intake coordinator.
“(We perform) medical stabilization for people who are recovering from (addiction including) alcohol, opiates and painkillers such as hydrocodone, Oxycodone, OxyContin and also benzodiazepines,” Childers said.
Benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium and Klonopin.
“Those are sedatives that help people with anxiety but have an addictive potential over time,” Childers said. “(But) we probably see people with opiate addiction more than anything else.”
Physicians often prescribe opiates for pain relief, Childers said.
“They eventually begin having side effects from the medicine, such as not sleeping well,” she said. “They want to quit the medicine but discover they have developed an addiction because of all the withdrawal side effects they start to have.”
Childers said symptoms brought on by withdrawing from opiates and benzodiazepines include: Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, muscle cramps, hot and cold flashes, occasional fever, sweating, runny nose, watery eyes, tremors/shakiness and restlessness.
New Vision is designed to care for addicts as they go through the strains of withdrawal. Those interested in assistance from New Vision are asked to first call and undergo a phone screening.
“They call and we see if they meet the criteria, see if they have a history of taking one of these substances and see if they are having withdrawal symptoms,” Childers said. “We bill through insurance and also have a private pay policy.”
Childers said New Vision is attempting to establish a relationship with local court systems and so far has received a few patients who have been referred by the courts.
Patients stay at New Vision for an average of three to five days; 15 to 20 patients are treated there each month, Childers said.
“They are given a round of medicines, vitamins and fluids to help them address symptoms of withdrawal, cravings and reactions to opiates,” Childers said. “For opiates, we use a medicine called Suboxone, and then we use several other medicines for other symptoms.”
Patients are given medicines that address blood pressure issues, cravings and anxiety. The rounds of medicine are administered to help patients make it through the withdrawal process, Childers said.
“A lot of people will say withdrawals are 100 times worse than having the flu,” she said. “A woman said she would rather have the flu 365 days a year as opposed to one day of withdrawal symptoms (from opiates).”
Childers said that although there is not a 100 percent pain-free method of going through the withdrawal process, the process at New Vision is the next best thing.
Patients who complete the withdrawal process at New Vision are strongly encouraged to seek rehab counseling from a facility such as Gateway House or Harbor House, Childers said.
Beth Sallee, prevention resource center coordinator for Gateway House, said Gateway and Harbor Recovery Centers provide assistance thorough substance abuse counseling to local residents, with Gateway providing counseling to women and Harbor to men.
Many of the clients who move into Gateway and Harbor for counseling have a history of drug arrests and have been placed in the program through the court system.
Gateway and Harbor treat people with all manners of alcohol and narcotic abuse and addiction.
“Here recently, opiates are our No. 1 problem … opiates and tranquilizers,” Sallee said. “In 2007, prescription pain medications were involved in more drug overdoses than cocaine and heroin combined. In between 2005 and 2007, it bypassed every other drug.”
Sallee said on average, a Gateway client stays in the facility 35 to 45 days.
John Lane, an employee of Harbor House who has worked as both a counselor and night security guard and was once a Harbor client, said Harbor clients also stay an average of 35 to 45 days.
“We’re a facility that can handle up to 30 clients,” Lane said. “We also have transitional living. After they get through the treatment process, they can go through the phase 1 program. They get a job, get six weeks to save up money, and they can move into one of our houses as part of the phase two transitional living program. The houses are close to Harbor House and we can help them if they have problems along the way.”
At both Gateway and Harbor, clients attend classes throughout the morning and afternoon. They are taught life skills, coping skills, parenting skills and relapse prevention.
“Their treatment plan is individualized based on their needs,” Sallee said. “Right now we have 14 residential clients, and more than half have prescription drug problems.”
Success in the program and becoming free of addiction depends on what a Gateway and Harbor resident brings to the program, Sallee said.
“It all just depends on how willing they are to change,” she said. “If they want to get off drugs and start their life different, then they’ll do different.”